A shallow pool of skilled workers is one of the main problems cited by critics of the Made in USA movement. They say that even if demand for American-made merchandise was to skyrocket, who would produce the goods?
SoftWear Automation, an Atlanta-based textile-equipment manufacturer, believes it has a solution.
The company has developed a line of advanced sewing robots, dubbed Lowry, that it says can be leveraged to stitch everything from home goods to shoes to clothing, eliminating the need for seamstresses.
“This is a large market that has not seen major technology changes in decades,” said SoftWear CEO K.P. Reddy. “Lowry is a significant first step for manufacturers who are looking to move towards a fully automated manufacturing facility. It automates a large number of the processes involved in sewing operations and promises to dramatically alter the industry’s competitive balance.”
With systems starting at $20,000, the lightweight, four-axis “sewbots” can be used by apparel companies for fabric handling, pick and place operations and directing sewing; moving manufacturing closer to the consumer and driving down the cost of production while increasing quality, shortening speed-to-market time and reducing errors.
“Our products will allow for manufacturing to be much more localized towards the consumer of the product,” Reddy added.
According to SoftWear, the system takes three to five days to get up and running and fully integrates with existing cutters, fabric transfers and sewing machines. It can also run continuously, with little to no human interaction. Using multiple cameras and computer vision technology, the machine knows what it’s sewing, while a fully customizable conveyance system can move fabric in any direction across a surface.
“All the systems are monitored with our software and the only real human interaction is around materials management and resupplying the machines,” Reddy noted.
Of course, the transition to automated sewing solutions will not be without its trials, chiefly training.
“As sewing jobs left the U.S., the knowledge left with it. When these jobs return thanks to robotic solutions, there will be a different kind of knowledge and training required. These will be robotics-type jobs, as opposed to straight seamstress work,” he explained, adding, “As the market continues to adopt our technology, getting the right training to this new form of knowledge worker will be our key challenge.”