Seattle-based tech start-up Sewbo has announced that it has made a major breakthrough in apparel manufacturing by using an industrial robot to sew together a T-shirt. Sewbo claims that it is the first time that a robot has been used to sew an entire article of clothing.
Despite widespread use in other industries, automation has failed to find a place in apparel manufacturing due to robots’ inability to handle limp, flexible fabrics, which Sewbo has overcome by temporarily stiffening fabrics, making it easy for conventional robots to build clothes as if they were made from sheet metal.
Sewbo uses a water-soluble stiffener to allow the fabric to be easily moulded and welded before being sewn together. Once the automated 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.
A robot sews an entire T-shirt
“Our technology will allow manufacturers to create higher-quality clothing at lower costs in less time than ever before,” said Jonathan Zornow, the technology’s inventor. “Avoiding labor 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 customisation for everyone.”
Sewbo performed the test using an off-the-shelf standard industrial robot, which they taught to operate a consumer sewing machine. Having successfully proved its core concept, Sewbo is now expanding its team with a view to commercialising the technology.
Images: courtesy of Sewbo