How Robotic Sewing Experiment Got Levi’s Attention
The teams’ early work integrated sewing machines with collaborative robot systems and designed an end effector capable of lifting and controlling a single large ply of fabric. Recent projects have built upon these developments to be able to robotically conduct more advanced operations like hemming, fabric fusing, pocket setting and curved stitches. The two firms then turned to Sewbo, a company that wants to address a common problem that prevents robotics from meshing with apparel production—the technology often has difficulty trying to handle limp, flexible or floppy fabrics, and thus can’t start the sewing process.
Because the machines are also expensive, according to Zornow, the upfront investment and maintenance costs are also high. To make matters tougher, the downtime can be substantial, he said. “Consequentially, you sort of find this paradigm where although a lot of the tools do exist, they’re not really getting used,” Zornow said. Rather than teach robots how to handle cloth, Sewbo temporarily stiffens the fabric with a nontoxic polymer, enabling off-the-shelf industrial robots to build garments from rigid cloth, just as if they were working with sheet metal. Zornow told Rivet that the use of the stiffening agent was the “big breakthrough” that made the technology innovation possible.