Building a robot that can sew even simple clothes is surprisingly hard. Robots are good at dealing with things that are rigid, but not with soft, flexible things like fabric. As a result, most clothes today are still made by women sitting in a factory, using sewing machines. But the automated manufacturing company SoftWear is changing that. It has developed a robot which has a half-a-millimetre sewing accuracy, meaning it can do things well above and beyond human capability, like sew a perfect circle. The innovation is in the cameras, which help the sewing robot track where the threads are at every moment and take corrective action if the fabric stretches or shifts.
This is not an isolated signal of change. Robots are already sewing simple items like bath towels. And recently, Adidas unveiled its “SpeedFactory”, a new robot-operated facility in southern Germany which will start producing shoes in 2017. Its rival Nike is also developing a robot-operated factory.
As of 2018 Softwear Automation has partnered with Li & Fung’s supply, a supply chain managment company. The agreement initially covers the manufacturing of t-shirts, with the overall aim to create a fully digitised manufacturing supply chain for apparel and textile products.