AMP: Automated Couture – Using Robots to Make Clothing
While manufacturing companies have long cited labor costs as a reason to move production out of the United States, Chinese clothing manufacturer Tianyuan Garments Co., which makes about 10 million garments a year for brands like Reebok and Armani and supplies sporting goods company Adidas with 90 percent of its clothes, established its most recent factory in Arkansas.
In an effort to shorten its supply chain, get its products closer to its consumers and, surprisingly, reduce costs, the company invested $20 million to purchase and retrofit a 100,000-square foot plant and began producing T-shirts in Little Rock earlier this year.
Under the name TY Garments, USA, the company was able to dodge notoriously high American labor costs by taking humans out of the equation. TY employs about 330 robots, designed by Atlanta-based Softwear Automation Inc., which use computer-guided assistance to perform each step of the T-shirt making process from arranging and cutting fabric, sewing seams, adding sleeves, and post-production quality inspection.
Softwear Automation’s chief commercial officer Pete Santora said TY USA’s Arkansas plant is the first to use Softwear Automation’s “sewbots.” He estimates the factory will be able to create about 23 million shirts a year at a cost of 33¢ per unit.
With 21 automated assembly lines at the Little Rock facility, TY is expected to be able to cut labor costs compared to traditional human-based production by 50 to 70 percent and simultaneously increase productivity more than 70 percent.
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