Machinery : Industrial Robot : Textiles
Sewbo’s technology will allow manufacturers to create higher-quality clothing at lower costs. It will shorten supply chains and lessen the long lead times that hamper the fashion and apparel industries, helping to reduce the complexity of today’s intricate global supply network.
Why Robots Can’t Sew Your T-Shirt
But sewing has been notoriously difficult to automate, because textiles bunch and stretch as they’re worked with. Human hands are adept at keeping fabric organized as it passes through a sewing machine. Robots typically are not deft enough to handle the task.
SoftWear’s robots overcame those hurdles. They can make a T-shirt. But making them as cheaply as human workers do in places like China or Guatemala, where workers earn a fraction of what they might make in the US, will be a challenge, says Sheng Lu, a professor of fashion and apparel studies at the University of Delaware.
SoftWear calls its robotic systems Sewbots. They are basically elaborate work tables that pair sewing machines with complex sensors. The company zealously guards the details of how they work, but here are the basics: Fabric is cut into pieces that will become parts of the shirt: the front, the back, and the sleeves. Those pieces are loaded into a work line where, instead of a person pushing the fabric through a sewing machine, a complicated vacuum system stretches and moves the material. Cameras track the threads in each panel, allowing the system to make adjustments while the garment is being constructed.