Robot Tailors?

Automation is a good solution for jobs that are dirty, dangerous, or dull. New research and development in robotics has been trying to push the envelope, even as people worry about human workers being replaced by robots.

The new opportunities for robots are coming about as researchers try to add jobs to the list of things that robots can do. Agriculture and construction are areas where we’re already seeing robots employed to do things they couldn’t handle just a decade ago.

Clothing manufacturing is the latest frontier. Wired Magazine reports that two companies are trying to figure out how to automate clothing construction in very different ways.

Why can’t machines make clothes?

Fabric behaves differently from sheet metal. It ripples and flows and changes its shape as it’s cut and sewn. Robots can’t handle it.


SoftWear has come up with a new system for sewing T shirts that uses sensors and vacuums to position fabric pieces for sewing. They can make a T shirt in less than 1 minute, compared with about 16 minutes for a human to produce a T shirt in a commercial sewing line.

The Sewbot, shown in the video at the top this post, hasn’t figured out how to bring their costs below the cost of making T shirts overseas with human workers who are paid less than the $28,000 the av rage commercial sewing machine operator in the U.S.commands.

Sewbo is another company which makes T shirts with robots. They coat their fabrics with a substance that makes the fabric stiff enough for robots to work with. When the sewing is complete, the coating is washed off.

Their website assures us that robotic garment sewing is “just around the corner,” but they don’t seem to be in production yet. And their prototype shirt doesn’t look ready for prime time.

Both these approaches to automating clothing construction will have problems with new fabrics, frequent design changes, and quality assurance.

Should robots make clothes?

If it ever becomes practical to automate clothing construction, garment workers in Bangladesh could lose their jobs.

In the United States last year, there were 116,520 sewing machine operators earning on average $14.14 per hour. That comes to a bit less than $30,000 a year for full-time workers. It’s a lot more than most garment workers earn. Most garment workers are living and working in Guatemala, Bangladesh, and other low-wage places. Their lives might be improved if they could switch from operating industrial sewing machines to operating sewing robots instead.

Human beings could still design clothing and do specialty sewing that requires great dexterity and skill. Meanwhile, robots could make T shirts and reduce waste and energy usage.

While both the companies Wired wrote about are still in start-up stage after years of effort, Rexroth motion control has decades of first-quality production and centuries of history. When you need service and support for Rexroth motion control systems, we should be your first call. We offer factory repair and reman, as well as replacement components with 24 hour turnaround.

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