The Business of Fashion: The Robot Opportunity
SoftWear Automation, an Atlanta-based robotics firm focused on sewn product manufacturing, believes it has the solution. SoftWear’s automated system uses high-speed photography to take pictures of garments as robots work on them. The images are interpreted in real-time by software, which, in turn, directs the robot’s movements. “Our robots know when the fabric is being stretched and by exactly how much, and it can make adjustments accordingly,” explains KP Reddy, chief executive officer of the company, which was born out of a university research project three years ago.
In the last few years, the cost of this kind of system has also dropped rapidly. “To buy a $5 million robot to do the work of a $50,000 a year employee, you could never get the economics to work,” says Reddy. Today, SoftWear’s systems cost $50,000 to $100,000. “If your seamstress is costing you $50,000 a year, you’re getting a sub-three-year payback,” he says (in the developing world, however, garment workers earn considerably less — in 2014, Bangladesh’s government raised its minimum wage for garment workers to the equivalent of $68 a month). It takes one person to manage four or five Softwear robots, enabling companies to limit their labour costs or invest in staff in other functions of the business.
At the moment, SoftWear’s systems can make a limited range of clothing such as jeans, basic dresses and skirts, as well as home goods like towels and curtains. Softwear declined to reveal its current apparel clients, but Reddy says most are focussed on fast fashion or athletic apparel.
Read the article in its entirety at Business of Fashion.