ROBOTIC AUTOMATION FOR SEWING
Despite great strides in manufacturing achieved by the automobile and aviation industry in recent times, apparel manufacturing units remain unchanged, somehow, as far as complete automated production is concerned. However, automated apparel production has started to be implemented across the globe and has moved from the US to the other side of the Pacific where low labour costs help to meet the consumer demands for more inexpensive goods. According to a study by the United States Fashion Industry Association, 43% of American fashion companies believe that rising production, labour and sourcing costs are some of the most difficult business challenges. In the same context, Pete Santora, Chief Commercial Officer, SoftWear Automation, and Dr. Mike Fralix, CEO, [ TC] Technology Evangelist, SoftWear Automation (USA) explain how automation in garment manufacturing would create a revolution never seen before.
How do you think Robotics will impact sewing technology in the coming years?
Robotic technology for the sewn products industry was developed in the US in the 1990s as a strategy to help companies compete with the increasing cost of labour. Unfortunately, such developments were abandoned because producing offshore in low- cost labour countries was less expensive overall. As a result, the current sewing technology has been developed assuming that human operators are required.
There are at least three key issues/glitches with the current apparel manufacturing supply chain strategy.
1. The cost of labour and the cost of transportation have continued to increase to such a point that there are not many cheap- labour countries left. And, those which are there do not have the necessary infrastructure in place to meet the needs of U. S. brands and retailers.
2. The global supply chain has become expansive and very complex. This complexity requires high inventory, more accurate forecasting and additional financing in order to produce quality goods on time. Unfortunately, the existing system fails quite often because of prevalent issues like weather systems, Government policy changes, G20 summits, smog control, labour wage changes, shipping, and customs’ issues. A lot of things have to be right to receive products on a regular/timely basis. As a result, several resources are consumed on forecasting properly, financing the inventory, and then storing that inventory.
At SoftWear Automation, the fabric distortion can be recognized in real-time and then robotics can be used to move the fabric into place between each needle strike. This technology looks more like an autonomous driving car than standard automation.
3. Most new products are still very slow to get to the market. Market share of global brands is being eroded by very quick and nimble start- up companies who have customer loyalty. And, with low- cost labour controlling manufacturing, improvements in speed, efficiency, and innovation have been slower than they might otherwise have been.
The robotic systems that were put on the shelf in the 1990s are now being replaced by more sophisticated technology and companies which are now rethinking their sourcing strategies. As robotic technology is implemented on the manufacturing floor and cheap labour is removed as a barrier, this generation of automation will radically change the cost, capabilities,