WTIN: Chinese Manufacturer Invests in SEWBOTS™
Tianyuan Garments Company of Suzhou has signed an agreement with SoftWear Automation of Atlanta to develop a fully automated T-shirt production line at Tianyuan’s newly acquired plant in Little Rock, Arkansas, in July.
The technology was developed by and is patented by Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center. Using cameras to map the fabric and robots to steer it through the sewing needles, the system will handle soft fabrics and make T-shirts for Tianyaun’s customers.
The system is scheduled to be fully operational by the end of next year, the company adds.
“From fabric cutting and sewing to finished product, it takes roughly four minutes,” says 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.”
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,” says Tang.
Tianyuan announced last October that it would invest US$20m in the 100,000 sq ft defunct Little Rock plant it had acquired. In time, it will bring 400 new jobs to Arkansas, says the company.
The signing ceremony was witnessed by a Chinese textile delegation led by Xu Yingxin, vice president of the China National Textile and Apparel Council.
Xu says that establishing a clothing factory in Arkansas enables Tianyuan to satisfy instant order demands from its clients. He praises Tianyuan’s collaboration with American partners in automation as a smart move at a crucial junction in the technology revolution. “The idea of Industry 4.0 and intelligent manufacturing is gradually becoming the reality,” says Xu. “It is revolutionising labour-intensive clothing manufacturing.”
The delegation, made up of industry leaders and entrepreneurs, also visited existing plants of Tianyuan and Shandong Ruyi Technology, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) and Walmart’s global headquarters.
They were also received by Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who has been actively promoting Arkansas to Chinese investors. He personally went to China and signed the deal for Tianyuan to set up shop in Little Rock last year, says the company.
Overall, Hutchinson’s efforts have produced results. Following Tianyuan, Shandong Ruyi announced in May a US$410m investment to set up a yarn factory utilising local cotton, in Forrest City, a town about an hour from Little Rock. The company is in the process of renovating a former Sanyo building and will bring about 800 jobs to the area, adds the company.
“China attracted a lot of technology and equipment from the US,” says Xu. “Many brands have entered China. Now, China is beginning to manufacture in the US.
“Chinese textile companies began investing in North Carolina and South Carolina. With Shandong Ruyi and Tianyuan’s investment here, Arkansas is becoming another centre for China’s textile industry.”
In welcoming the delegation, Hutchinson says: “We are very committed to making sure that the two garment companies already here – Ruyi and Tianyuan – are successful. AEDC director Michael Preston is working hard to support them. If they have an issue, or there is something they don’t understand, they get help.”
The company supplying the technology, SoftWear Automation, has recently received US$4.5m in financing from existing investor, CTW Venture Partners. The funding will accelerate the company’s development of fully automated sewn good worklines specifically for apparel production in the US. The company plans to add 20 employees in view of growing customer demand, says the company.
SoftWear Automation, which counts leading brands among its customers, is leading the disruption of the US$100bn sewn products industry with its next-generation sewing worklines for home goods, footwear and apparel. The company’s fully automated Sewbots allow manufacturers to Sewlocal, moving their supply chains closer to the customer while creating higher-quality products at a lower cost, the company continues.
“Our innovative Sewbots are moving needles to the fabric instead of fabric to the needle,” says Palaniswamy “Raj” Rajan, SoftWear Automation chairman and CEO. “Factories today chase cheap labour around the world and we have ended up with an unsustainable supply chain. SoftWear Automation’s Sewbots can move that manufacturing closer to the customer or the raw materials.”
The company’s patented computer vision systems view fabric more accurately than the human eye, tracking exact needle placement to within half a millimetre of accuracy. SoftWear Automation’s sales grew 1,000% from 2015 (started shipping product) to 2016. The company is on target to grow at the same rate through 2017, it says.
The American Apparel and Footwear Association reports 97% per cent of all apparel in the United States currently is imported. According to Rajan, one of SoftWear’s most important goals is to help bring textile manufacturing back to the US while creating higher-wage jobs for those supervising the Sewbots’ work. “US textile manufacturing will look different when it comes back, but it will be more productive and provide higher paying jobs than before,” he says.
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