Many developing economies—from the United Kingdom to the United States to China—have relied on textiles manufacturing as a necessary first step toward industrialization. Today’s emerging economies from Bangladesh and beyond also have invested heavily into textiles and garments manufacturing as a way of leveraging an abundance of cheap labor into foreign currency inflows.
But there is a rising challenger to today’s textile manufacturing giants such as India and Bangladesh, and it’s not Laos or Vietnam. Automation, fueled in part by cheaper U.S. electricity available through shale production, is ushering in a new era of textiles manufacturing. Automation brings with it increases in quality and efficiency, increasing cost competitiveness with traditional manufacturing methods despite the higher initial investment cost. Add lower electricity costs to the equation, and distant manufacturing operations start to lose their advantages.
The textile industry is no stranger to mechanization, but cheaper energy inputs already are changing the face of manufacturing – and not simply in textiles. Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is another area of manufacturing set to benefit dramatically from the availability of cheap electricity made possible by the American shale boom.