Financial Times: Stitched by Robots

This may be about to change. In a former cabinet-making factory in Atlanta, a group of Softwear Automation technicians are huddled around touch-screens punching in computer code as they try to perfect the Sewbot. To address a problem with delicate materials they have given the robot cameras, which function as eyes, just as engineers have done with self-driving cars. The cameras take shots of the material being stitched, analyse them and then guide the movements of the robotic arms.

The technology has caught the attention of Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, which has given the company $2m as part of a project to automate the production of jeans. In September, the Sewbot made a breakthrough, successfully sewing an outside seam on to one pair. Next year, the company plans to expand to T-shirts, 97 per cent of which are produced outside the US.

Palaniswamy Rajan, Softwear Automation’s chief executive, explains the commercial imperative behind developing technology of this kind, even when clothing companies have a vast army of cheap labour at their disposal.

“If you’re Macy’s [the department store], and you want to get 100,000 pieces of this style, you order from China nine to 12 months ahead of time,” he says. “If you produce closer to the consumer, you could buy an order of 10,000, get it in a month, and see if certain designs sell better than others.”

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