<Editor's Pick>What is new about Alibaba's new manufacturing plant that has been "hidden" for three years?

Inside the white workshop, industrial robotic arms move back and forth to place the selected fabric in the grooves. Above the factory, a conveyor belt carries a selection of unfinished garments to the garment workers at work. On the other side, indigo jeans are instantly laser-burned with various fashionable "wash" marks, and cotton T-shirts on the same assembly line turntable can each be printed with a different pattern and text. Inside the warehouse, logistics robots steadily move one-person high goods in and out of the warehouse.

The machine is more tired than people, and the screens are more than people, this is a scene in the Rhino Smart Manufacturing factory in Hangzhou. Ready-to-wear jeans, T-shirts, and other garments from the factory appear in Tmall's merchant stores within a day.

Four years ago, Jack Ma first proposed the concept of "new manufacturing" at the Cloud Computing Conference. It is not just manufacturing + IoT, but a deep reconfiguration of the traditional manufacturing industry through digital technology to achieve intelligence, personalization, and customization of the manufacturing industry.

The textile and apparel industry, with market size of $3 trillion, was chosen. The first new manufacturing plant broke ground in Linping in the spring of 2018 and was kept strictly secret from both inside and outside Alibaba. The entire project was named Rhino Smart ManufacturingJust like its rhino mascot, it is responsible for grounding the concept of "new manufacturing" that floats in the air.

On September 16, the Rhino factory was revealed and the new manufacturing delivered its first answer.

Rhino Smart is a whole new species. It is not simply a production line upgrade, nor is it replacing manual labor with machines, but rather a new ecosystem built using digital technology. The front end connects 800 million consumers on Alibaba's retail platform, while the back end connects raw materials, manufacturing plants, logistics suppliers, and millions of small and medium-sized merchants on Taobao and Tmall.

The consumer demand and trend insights from the front end of Taobao and Tmall can be transmitted to the production end with a zero-time difference. A flexible production line, transformed by IoT, can react quickly, produce a product in a short period of time, and bring it to market for validation.

In that sense, the era of on-demand customization is truly here.

 

More screens than people, serving SMEs

Three years ago, Wu Xuegang received Alibaba CEO and Chairman Zhang Yong's "military order". But new manufacturing can not follow Aliyun's "evenly distributed" approach, and can only slowly penetrate the vertical industries one by one. With experience at Decathlon and Uniqlo, Wu chose the apparel industry as a breakthrough in new manufacturing for RhinoThis $3 trillion market size industry is large enough to have a heavy enough pain point - an inventory backlog that makes it difficult for a large number of brands and companies to survive.

Compared to the general industry, the garment industry, which looks "bright and shiny", is itself a labor-intensive and very low-profit industry. Traditional industries like automobiles and aerospace have used the adoption of new technologies to boost production as a selling point. And for the apparel industry, with the exception of some mega brands, slim margins have deterred many small and medium-sized factories from facing digital upgrades. For Alibaba, in order to help these SMEs, he must first make a model out of himself - the Rhino Smart Factory is the result of such.

Since it is a smart factory, first of all, the production line needs to be "smart". The description at the beginning of the article is a scenario of the daily operation of a smart factory. In addition to the industrial robotic arm, the team developed its own turntable hanging system, which avoids obstacles to continually deliver clothes to workers.

It's worth mentioning the neural network, the IoT system. Through an IoT partnership with Aliyun, the factory has one of the highest IoT levels in the industry, at around 90 percent, with ubiquitous IoT devices that instantly collect data during the production process. This repertoire feeds the industrial brain with a constant stream of data that drives algorithmic optimization. As the factory is all digitalized and based on the layout of the Internet of Things, each piece of fabric has its own ID, so there is no need for people to find goods, which can realize "goods find people" and maximize the ability of machine intelligence.

And the workers on the production line no longer look like women weaving on a traditional garment line. In the Rhino factory, every worker has an iPad in front of him or her, and many operations can be done on the screen. That's one of the reasons why Rhino is called a "triple-plus" factory - more engineers, more iPads, and more young people.

In three years, Rhino has created an intelligent production system for the garment industry, from order preparation, to design, production, and warehousing. But that's just one end of the scale, the more important end is the other.

 

What is truly "new manufacturing”?

If we liken the various industrial robots and IoT devices in a smart factory to muscles, then what's more important about the Rhino Factory is the data from Alibaba's retail system, because this "brain" is the real solution to the apparel industry's problems.

Previously, the rule of the clothing industry is to produce the sale of the summer production of winter clothes, for example, is expected to sell 20 million pieces of down jacket this fall and winter. But when sales go awry, the inventory squeezed from pre-production is enough to crush a brand. The giants were no exception, as H&M was reported to have burned 60 tons of stock.

In the fast-changing world of business, speed is one of the key factors in winning. Zara, which started out as a fast-fashion company, was able to go from designing clothes to putting them on store shelves around the world in two weeks. The word "fast" has propelled Zara to the top of the global apparel industry.

Typically, the apparel industry is averaging 1,000 pieces with a 15-day delivery when the design is finalized. The Rhino factory, transformed by AIoT and cloud computing, was more responsive than Zara, and the team was able to reduce the data to 100 pieces for a 7-day delivery short, it's a way for every business to become a Zara, not to create or predict a trend, but to respond to it, so that when a hot word is born, the next day you can buy a T-shirt like this on Taobao.

At the same time, the advantage of Rhino Smart Factory lies in Alibaba's two decades of accumulated retail system. Taobao and Tmall have accumulated a large number of users and are able to accurately predict shifts in consumer trends, making it possible to "tailor production to market". Relying on consumer insights from the retail platform, Rhino Factory has the ability to predict "hot sells".

For apparel companies, intelligent forecasting and flexible manufacturing keep inventory to a minimum, or even zero.

For live broadcasters, designers, and start-up brands, the supply chain has been a short slab. Because of the small volume of purchases, they often have to choose small workshops of varying quality, but Rhino offers qualified production capacity, allowing them to focus on marketing and creativity.

In fact, many of Rhino Factory's customers are small and medium-sized merchants on Taobao and Tmall, as well as popular online stores this year, before the Chinese New Year, Rhino Smart Factory and an internet celebrity launched a lucky sweatshirt, prepared dozens of auspicious patterns and 20,000 lucky texts, consumers can purchase on Taobao shop, and factories take orders and produce on-demand, realizing zero inventory.

There are a handful of entrepreneurs and giants on the manufacturing digitalization track. However, the essence of the new manufacturing is not a simple upgrade of the old manufacturing + IoT, but the use of technology to truly connect the consumer with the manufacturing industry, and to enable efficient collaboration between the two. Consumer demand can be turned into products on the shelves in the shortest possible time.

 

Technology brings new opportunities

At the beginning of the new century, China formally joined the World Trade Organization, and the world market began to open to China just over a decade, China has become the "world's factory" and the "Made in China" logo has become the most familiar logo to consumers around the world.

In the present twenty years later, the global landscape and consumer needs have changed dramatically. First, the ebb and flow of globalization have affected domestic companies that previously focused on foreign trade, and factories that focused on the scale have inevitably experienced overcapacity. In addition, assembly-line products with a unified logo can no longer meet consumers' needs for personalization and customization.

When the demand side begins to change drastically, a supply-side upgrade is inevitable.

Forty years ago, starting a business in the apparel industry required building your own factory. Twenty years ago, starting a business in the apparel industry required finding your own factory. Now, Rhino Smart allows entrepreneurs to put garments on the shelves within a week, and production is tightly focused on-demand generation.

A second Rhino Smart plant is already up and running and more are planned. The garment industry is just the first step in Rhino's validation of this idea, and when the new manufacturing idea was validated, it's predictable that it won't just be garment factories that will be upgraded.

In this sense, Rhino Smart produces not T-shirts, but technology, ideas, and a new business model - which is what new manufacturing is supposed to be about.

 

This is an article from WeChat official accounts GeekPark(ID: geekpark), written by Jingyu, translated by Linda Yang.