Speed, efficiency and high volumes – Industry 4.0 is transforming manufacturing, making strides in the world of mass production. But can smart technologies and digitization find a place in the luxury world of carefully crafted and often customized items?
One model of success has been at Lamborghini where its Sant’Agata Bolognese factory was expanded in 2017 to incorporate cutting-edge technologies for the production of the Urus. Ranieri Niccoli, Chief Manufacturing Officer, says:
“It is true that in theory Industry 4.0 technologies tend to be for efficiency and mass production. But there does not have to be a contradiction between using them for a luxury product if you can also keep the real characteristics of that luxury product. And for us that is craftsmanship and maximum quality.”
01. Luxury Car Industry
Lamborghini produces 23 of its super SUV Urus cars every day, which meant a 50% increase in production, he explains:
“We could not use the same production principles as for our super sports car, so we created a new model of factory, which we call ‘Manifattura Lamborghini.’ The challenge was that the cars still had to be assembled by hand, but we managed to create a factory, which uses use some Industry 4.0 tools, while also keeping people at the center of its process.”
Workers carry out all assembly, but materials and chassis are transported by robots or automatic guided vehicles (AGVs). A manufacturing execution system (MES) synchronizes them and provides real-time data to workers via touch screens. Cobots are employed at stations where positional precision and maximum repeatability are required, such as applying glue for a windscreen.
Mr. Niccoli says the next step for Lamborghini is to look at bringing Industry 4.0 technologies into the production of its super sports cars.
“This will be more challenging because the characteristics of the personalization here are even more dramatic and the quality required is even higher.”
02. Fashion Industry
Paola Bertola, Professor of Design at Politecnico di Milano and its Fashion in Process (FiP) collective, says the luxury fashion industry must also embrace digitization. She believes there is differing maturity within the sector when it comes to adopting Industry 4.0 technologies.
“Sportswear is usually much more structured in terms of research and development and technology scouting in general. Accessories also often find it easier to imagine how they might incorporate technology in their processes, but the garment industry is less quick in adopting them.”
Established brands, she warns, need to be aware that “digital native” start-ups are already ahead of the game:
“Established brands are very structured and their complex supply chains make integrating information flow and creating a network for exchanging data in real-time very challenging. To hybridize the high tech and the craftsmanship also needs a strong research and development department, which they don’t usually have.”
Prof Bertola says some luxury fashion brands are now, however, starting to incorporate 3D modeling software and printing processes into their prototyping processes. Melanie Mollard, Fashion Content Manager at Heuritech, says many are also realizing the potential of Industry 4.0 technologies in their planning. The French company offers an AI-powered, deep learning platform, which uses visual recognition and predictive analytics to forecast trends and has worked with clients such as Louis Vuitton, Paco Rabanne, Jimmy Choo and Dior.
“One of our luxury brand clients came to us to forecast whether the chunky sneaker trend was going to continue. We were able to tell them that it was, and we were right. We expect our predictive technology to be used far more in the future as it helps clients with manufacturing to plan their production runs, making their operations more efficient.”
03. Luxury Watch Industry
David Bailey, Professor of Business Economics at Birmingham University, says Industry 4.0 technologies are starting to appear in luxury watches.
“This industry faces challenges from wearables – smartwatches such as Apple Watch, for example. Some designers are now having to think about traditional-looking watches which combine some of those features. TAG Heuer, for example, is trying to use IoT technology from Qualcomm, in California, and Android smartphone technology.”
Italy-based Antares Vision, which provides track and trace, inspection systems and smart data management, has offered its Industry 4.0 technologies to the luxury watch industry. Dr. Monica Coffino, business development manager, explains:
“We once built an anti-counterfeit solution for a Swiss watch producer. We embedded an NFC sensor into the box so the buyer could pass their phone near it and it would talk about the history of the watch and confirm it was authentic.”
Antares Vision also uses AI to quality control luxury product components.
“Our program creates algorithms and every time a component is put under a camera the algorithms learn a little bit more. It can detect, with zero mistakes, if a component is correct or not.”
Antares Vision’s Innovation Director, Alberto Albertini, says their cross-technology approach works well for the luxury industry.
“In most cases we put software, hardware, data management, AI, blockchains, etc together to find the best solution. Luxury is by definition dedicated to the end customer, who wants something almost unique, something special. A tailor-made or bespoke approach to bringing these technologies together offers added value – and this is ideal for the luxury industry.”