3-D Printing to Solve Retail Woes?

This $180,000 knitting machine could show up in your local fashion boutique, ready to knit you a sweater in 45 minutes. That’s a lot faster than knitting a sweater by hand, but there are some disconnects between the machine’s actual prowess and the reporting.

First, knitting a sweater from yarn, which is what this machine does, is not 3-D printing. It’s… knitting. People have done this with their hands for centuries. Machines have also been knitting things from yarn since the 19th century. Home knitting machines have been around for more than a century, and electronic knitting machines have been in factories for decades.

However, industrial knitting machines usually knit flat pieces (front, back, and sleeves for a sweater) which are then sewn together with other machines. It’s fairly labor-intensive. The new knitting machine produces a complete sweater in one piece — something that has previously been done by humans only. Socks and tights, of course, have been knitted by machines in a single piece for a long time.

The new knitting machines can create an entire sweater without much human intervention, though, and thus demonstrate a higher level of automation.

Greater automation is of course the big trend in manufacturing today, especially in the United States. “Whole garment” knitting machines like the one being shown at this years shows by Shima Seiki also connect with trends like customization and consumer demands for fast fashion. Machine makers are telling retailers that the upfront costs of their machines will be balanced by the higher value of customization and the end of stock issues. If a customer asks for a size or style that’s not in stock, retailers can have the new garment ready in under an hour.

And it seems likely that the headlines about the new knitting machines are so overexcited because most people don’t realize that this is another step in a long history of motion control technology, not an amazing new thing. Printing out human organs? That’s a new thing.

But newer isn’t always better. Take for example the amazing longevity of Rexroth electric motion control. We see plenty of machines that have been in service for 30 or 40 years and are only now needing service for the first time. We specialize in Rexroth electric drive and control machinery. Contact us today for help with yours.


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