IoTex Magazine: Rise of the SEWBOTS®
Palaniswamy Rajan, chairman and CEO of SoftWear Automation, spoke to Madelaine Cornforth about the company’s technology, the future of SEWBOTS and how they address cheap labour.
According to the UN, the global population is set to grow by 2.5bn people by 2050. All these people will need clothing, and as a result, the textile and apparel market needs to grow to accommodate this change. However, faced with labour shortages, rising wages, competitive pricing pressure and a shorter production cycle, textile and apparel manufacturers need to become much more efficient and rely on more than man-power. To survive, they need ‘Sewbots’. SoftWear Automation, an Atlanta, US based robotic sewing company, is pioneering the creation of autonomous sewn good worklines for home goods, footwear and apparel. According to SoftWear, its innovative technology will allow manufacturers to ‘SEWLOCAL’, moving supply chains closer to the consumer while creating higher quality products at a lower cost.
The robotics start-up began at the Georgia Institute of Technology after seven years of research and development working on projects with DARPA (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and the Walmart Foundation. Since 2015 the company has been shipping its Sewbots to customers in the US. According to SoftWear, its machines have produced millions of home textile products that are currently being sold in stores across the US. Recently, the company received US$4.5 million in financing from existing investor, CTW Ventures, to further accelerate the development of fully automated sewn good work-lines specifically for apparel production.
At the moment, SoftWear’s customers are using their technology to create home textile goods, towels, automotive mats, pillow cases, mattress covers and bags. The company is now setting its sights on apparel with its automated T-shirt work-line launched at Texprocess in Frankfurt last May. Since then, Chinese company Tianyuan Garments Company of Suzhou has signed an agreement with SoftWear Automation to develop a fully automated T-shirt production line at Tianyuan’s newly acquired plant in Little Rock, Arkansas, in July. The system, scheduled to be fully operational by the end of next year, will be used to make T-shirts for Adidas. “From fabric cutting and sewing to finished product, it takes roughly four minutes,” said Tang Xinhong, chairman of Tianyuan Garments. “We will install 21 production lines. When fully operational, the system will make one T-shirt every 22 seconds. We will produce 800,000 T-shirts a day for Adidas.”
Tang said that with complete automation, the personnel cost for each T-shirt is roughly US$0.33. “Around the world, even the cheapest labour market can’t compete with us. I am really excited about this,” he said.
Read the full article here, beginning on page 64.