New robots bring automated sewing into reality

A SoftWear Automation robotic sewing system. Image courtesy of SoftWear Automation.
A SoftWear Automation robotic sewing system. Image courtesy of SoftWear Automation.

Two new sewing robots have created the first ever autonomously-sewn garments and are set to cause major disruption in the garment manufacturing industry.

While garment manufacturing has long been labor-intensive, it has so far resisted large scale automation.

This all changed this week with two separate companies: Sewbo and SoftWear Automation both reportedly demonstrating the capability for autonomous sewing.

Sewbo released a video yesterday demonstrating their sewing robot completing a shirt without any human intervention.

As well, according to reporting by WWD, SoftWear Automation also demonstrated their capability using a different robotic system to sew the outside seams of jeans together from pattern pieces.

Each company is using a different approach to achieve this capability. Sewbo uses an off-the-shelf robotic arm combined with a commercial sewing machine and temporarily stiffened fabric to simplify the process.

“Our technology will allow manufacturers to create higher-quality clothing at lower costs in less time than ever before,” said Jonathan Zornow, the inventor behind Sewbo.

Meanwhile, SoftWear Automation, which has received backing from both Wal-Mart and the US Department of Defense, utilized a more advanced and complex concept.

Their ‘Automatic Sewing Machine’ makes use of a machine vision system called ‘ThreadVision’ to accurately produce a number of different garment designs repeatedly.

SoftWear’s robot is fully custom-built and is planned to be pared with other robots which will cut and fold material, creating an end-to-end automation solution for the industry.

Millions of garment jobs at risk

Currently millions of people, especially in low-income countries in South East Asia are employed in the garment industry.

A recent ILO report stated that there are currently 9 million people employed in this industry in ASEAN countries, with another approximately 4 million employed in Bangladesh alone.

Should either of these companies manage to commercialize their robotic sewing machines, these jobs would be at significant risk.

If a robot exists which can produce garments at a lower cost than humans in low-income countries, large societal disruptions will result.

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