A Seattle-based tech start-up has announced it has made a major breakthrough in apparel manufacturing by using an industrial robot to sew a full garment. Sewbo says it is the very first time a robot has successfully sewn an entire article of clothing, in this case a T-shirt.
The company has overcome the stumbling block that has prevented widespread use of robots in apparel manufacturing, which is a robot’s inability to handle limp, flexible fabrics, by temporarily stiffening the fabric.
Sewbo uses water-soluble stiffener to allow fabric to be easily moulded and welded before being sewn together. Once the manufacturing is complete, the stiffening process is reversed by rinsing the garment in hot water to return the fabric to its original state. The stiffener can then be recovered for reuse.
The treatment uses a plastic called Polyvinyl Alcohol, a non-toxic polymer that is already used elsewhere in the textile production process as a “sizing” that temporarily strengthens yarn during weaving.
Inventor of the technology Jonathan Zornow said the new technology would allow manufacturers “to create higher-quality clothing at lower costs in less time” than ever before.
“Avoiding labour issues and shortening supply chains will help reduce the complexity and headaches surrounding today’s intricate global supply network. And digital manufacturing will revolutionise fashion, even down to how we buy our clothes by allowing easy and affordable customization for everyone,” Zornow added.
The company used a standard industrial robot to complete the feat and is now expanding its team with a view to commercialising the technology.