Automation and Robotics in Apparel Industry

Last Updated on 25/01/2021

In the world market, survival in the competition of apparel industry depends on the advanced technology, automation and robotics, which are used from the designing to production process and product transportation of the industry. There is no doubt that automation can increase the production efficiency, reduce the number of faultsand reduce the overall cost of production. The global demand for quality clothing, low production costs and competitive advantage can be achieved through automation adoption. In many developing countries, budget constraints prevent garment manufacturers from adopting advanced technology. But in order for the apparel industry to survive in the market, it needs to be able to produce more flawless products in less time and at a lower cost.

Automation in Apparel Industry
Fig: Automation in Apparel Industry

Areas of Automation in Apparel Industry:

There are several areas of automation in the production of garments including the yarn and fabric manufacturing process. Previously posted about yarn and fabric production automation. Today I will try to focus on the application of automation in the garments production. These include Fabric Inspection, CAD & CAM, Fabric Spreading & Cutting, Sewing, Pressing, Material Handling & Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) in Automation.

Automation in Fabric Inspection:
Previously fabric inspections were performed in a manual process, so many times defects couldn’t be accurately identified. The use of automated equipment helps to enhance the efficiency of the fabric inspection process. Fabric inspection has proven to be one of the most difficult of all textile processesto automate. Various techniquelike Statistical Approach, Spectral Approach and Model-based Approach can be adopted for automatic fabric inspection. In all of these methods, the fabric image is manipulated by a software or modeling tool to extract information about the severity of the fabric defect. The identified defects are automatically identified on the fabric, If the amounts of defects in a fabric lot exceeds a certain limit, they are rejected.

Automated three optical fabric inspection systems: BarcoVision’s Cyclops, Elbit Vision System’s I-Tex, and Zellweger Uster’s Fabriscan.

Auto CAD and CAM:
In the past, the design of fabric was done manually.  So that a lot of time would be spent and the design would be recorded on paper. But now garment manufacturers use Computer Aided Design(CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacturing(CAM) to make garments. CAD is used to create 3D designs of clothing using computers, then CAD sends that information to CAM. CAM controls and manages the production process according to that information.

Automation in Fabric Spreading:
Many years ago fabric spreading was done manually, workers spread the fabric by hand. It also required more than one worker to complete the work. Then came the semi-automatic machine, where one could operate the machine and get the job done. At present fabric spreading can be done with the help of fully automatic machines. In automatic fabric spreading –

  • The work is done quickly by keeping the length-width as per the instructions given by the operator.
  • Automatically spliced and starts new fabric spreadingwhere the last fabric roll has finished.
  • Effective & high-quality sensor is used to identify the defects and the defective fabric is cut by itself.
  • Counting the ply number and themachine shuts down automatically when the specified ply number is exhausted.
  • Any type of fabric can be spread by this machine.
  • Less time required & less labor cost.
  • However, it is very expensive and skilled operator is needed to operate this machine.
Automatic fabric spreading machine
Fig: Automatic fabric spreading machine

Automation in Fabric Cutting:
This process was also done manually earlier but now automatic fabric cutting machine is being used. As a result, it is possible to cut the fabric more accurately and smoothly than before. According to the design of the garment now the design of that pattern is saved directly in the computer memory without making marker paper and according to that instruction the cutting machine automatically cuts multiple layers of fabric together, in a short time and accurately. This cutting process is also done somewhere using laser. The use of automatic cutting machines has reduced both the number of workers and the time compared to manually or operator operated machines.

automatic fabric cutting machine
Fig: Automatic fabric cutting machine

Below are the names of some of the automatic cutting machines:

  1. Bullmer cut: Premiumcut, Turbocut.
  2. Eastman CNC (Raptor)
  3. Tukatech’s CNC Automatic Cutting Machine: Tukacut.

Automation in Sewing:
In countries like Vietnam, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos most of the garment manufacturing process especially the sewing process is still done by skilled workers. Manufacturers have not made significant progress in purchasing automatic sewing machines or Sewing Robot, this has helped keep their investment low. But manufacturers who have not invested in modern equipment are facingextreme competition to keep labor costs low. Recently for the automation of the sewing process, industrial robots are being built that can handle fabric during sewing activities, where no labor will be required. The process of forming seam in these automatic machines is similar to that of traditional sewing machines. Different types of sewing stitches such as overlock stitch, double chain stitch, double lock stitch etc. can be formed by robotic sewing machine.

Sewing Robot (Sewbo):
The Sewbo is an industrial robot used in apparel industry for fabric gripping and handling. There have been some experimental trials to sew the whole garment using robots. One such example is Zornow’s robot “Sewbo” which can automatically handle fabric elements during sewing. The robot “Sewbo” invented by Zornow in 2015 can sew a T-shirt from start to finish. This success was a milestone in achieving 100% automation to create a complete outfit. The robot can be programmed for a specific size and style. If the size or style of clothing changes, the robot needs to be re-programmed.

Fig: Sewbo

LOWRY SewBot is invented by Atlanta based company of USA “Softwear Automation”, it’s a special type of robot that is designed for the apparel industry. These SewBots are built using the advanced industrial 4.0 revolution technology such as computer vision or advanced robotics, which can analyze and manipulate the fabric like human. SewBots can perform multiple garments manufacturing tasks such as, Fabric Cutting, sewing, Awaking, labelling, Inspection etc. all of these works are controlled with just one touch panel.

SewBot’s multiple capabilities reduce the needs of garment manufacturers by 50-70%, In the United States, where SewBot is made, it costs $7.48 to make denim shirt in human sewing line but in robotic production line it costs only $0.33. Also, it produces an average of 669 T-shirts on human sewing line in just 8 hours. There is a robotic sewing line that has the ability to produce 1142 T-shirts, which means that the production will increase by 71%.

Robotic 3D Sewing Technology:
The use of robotic 3D sewing technology can explore new dimensions in sewing as it can create high quality garments. Philipp Moll GmbH & Co. invented a 3D Sewing Technology, which could automatically create 3D Seam. Also, a 3D sewing robotic arm developed in China, the robotic arm can quickly scan the fabric pieceswith a laser scanner and sew them together supported programmed patterns and cut the threads, the whole process takes just a few minutes to complete. The 3D robotic arms are currently applied to the stitching of automotive interiors. 3D sewing technology can make clothing (trousers, jackets, shirts) and car seat covers, airbag fabrics. This 3D technology can help achieve better quality of high-efficiency sewing products. 3D sewing technology also helps reduce labor costs and increase productivity.

Automation in Pressing:
Pressing is one of the important steps to enhance the aesthetics of the product before going to the customers. Pressing operation is done to remove any crease in the garment so that it looks attractive when the customer buys it. Finding and retaining skilled workers for pressing operations is always a challenging affair. Operators migrate to other sectors for higher salaries when they gain sufficient skills. As a result, there is a shortage of skilled workers in this sector. These problems can be solved by adopting automation strategies in the pressing sector. Several advanced technologies such as pressing robots, jacket finishers, shirt finishers and shirt pressers are being commercially available now.

Use of Radio Frequency Identification:
RFID technology is an identification system that uses electromagnetic fields to detect the movement of objects. The use of RFID system helps in tracing the products during the whole manufacturing process and can help in the automation process during the production of garments. There are several uses of RFID technology in the textile sector such as Inventory Management, Product Tracking, Production Monitoring & Control, Retail Management etc.  RFID technology offers the potential benefits of SCM by increasing the efficiency and speed of the process, reducing losses and improving data accuracy.

Some Automatic Machines Used in Apparel Industry:

  1. Automatic pocket creasing machine
  2. Automatic sleeve placket creasing machine
  3. Automatic label cutting & creasing machine
  4. Automatic poly bagging machine
  5. Collar point cutting & turning machine
  6. Collar & cuff forming press
  7. Automatic workstation for collar or cuff run stitching or top stitching
  8. 1-needle lock stitch machine with automatic thread trimmer.
  9. 1-needle lock stitch machine equipped with program control & automatic thread trimmer.
  10. Automatic cycle machines for attaching Velcro in jackets
  11. Microcomputer-controlled button holing machine
  12. Button sewing machine with automatic button feeder

As discussed above, we now realize that automation in the garment industry is indispensable for increasing productivity and prosperity. The sooner we can introduce automation in any apparel industry, we can seek thousands of benefits. So, there is no comparison to automation in the apparel industry to survive in this current competitive market.



Author of this Article:
Md. Imran Hossain
B.Sc. in Textile Engineering
Shahid Abdur Rab Serniabat Textile Engineering College, Barisal.

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