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Wearables inspire EMS to get hints from fashion industry

Posted: 13 Nov 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:EMS? fashion industry? supply chain? wearable? Misfit?

The transformation of electronic manufacturing services (EMS) companies into supply chain companies and as electronics penetrates into every part of our lives, supply chains are colliding. In particular is that of the electronics manufacturing industry and the apparel industry in wearables space.

Whether it is the latest crowd-funded project or a volume product like a fitness or activity monitor worn on the wrist, all these products have impacted the way we view manufacturing. And it's not just the traditional apparel industry, the higher end of the fashion industry is also getting involved in technology with companies such as Swarovski partnering with technology providers such as Misfit to develop solutions for an ever more discerning market. While Fossil, who not only manufacture their own brand but also make watches for various designer brands, have brought a series of smart watches and fitness trackers to the market.

Wearables trend grows

Some products are a complex blend of flexible technical fabrics with sensor and monitoring technology, while others are more traditional electronic products but designed into the form factors that make them wearable with the demands on robustness and miniaturisation that it brings.

From an assembly point of view, it is interesting to consider what is required in the manufacturing process when conductive materials are printed on or embedded into a garment. The industry is used to processing rigid materials, mainly copper clad laminates in the form of PCBs. It is not geared up to assembly on flexible stretchable materials like the fabrics used in the apparel industry. Likewise, it hasn't figured out the placement process and the inspection process. Heat will also provide a challenge if we want to solder in the close proximity of fabrics, especially modern man-made material such as those used in sportswear.

Wearables

Source: Misfit

And what about the supply chain and the desire for a single point of contact, one person or company with ultimate product knowledge and responsibility? Call it what you will, it is essential that supply chains are integrated and the buyer, brand or OEM feels someone has control.

Buyers, procurement managers, and supply chain managers all appreciate this. They like certainty and they like to know that when a supply chain is challenged or at risk they call one person and get all the answers they need. If I were a large OEM brand with successfully outsourced supply chains in apparel and electronics (and I can think of a few of these), then when I introduce a product that converges apparel and electronics, I would ask both sets of vendors to bid on the entire project. Whether the electronics industry or the apparel industry steps up to that challenge will define how the future looks in this sector and indeed in both sectors.

Fashion and electronics supply chain

The supply chains for the apparel and the electronics industries are both mature and well developed, but they are completely separate. They operate in different ways, but with many of the same challenges and imperatives: they are both complex, with multiple suppliers, multiple models and multiple configurations; they both require worldwide fulfilment; they both require rapid ramp ups and fast introduction of new models; they both need innovation and protection of designs or intellectual property; and they are both heavily outsourced and hugely price sensitive.

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