Robot T-shirt Factory Is Planned for Arkansas

Here’s a snapshot of the automated, globalized future: a Chinese company has acquired a factory in Arkansas to produce t-shirts for the German company Adidas using robot sewing machines from Atlanta business SoftWear Automation.

Clothing manufacture is big business and is important to small, poor countries like Honduras where the income from sewing jobs helps keep many people afloat. So the automation of the industry over the next decade or two could be hard on that and other countries’ economies and may potentially inspire another large surge of illegal immigration.

Interestingly, a recent poll in Guatemala (another apparel producer) found that 90 percent of illegal aliens came for economic reasons rather than to escape violence, the reason frequently given by the liberal media as an excuse. So if the clothing manufacturing jobs were to disappear, low-paid though they are, it makes sense that even more Central Americans would head for the US. In general, the automation discussion has concerned what will happen in our own country, but it will have worldwide effects.

I reported earlier about a sewing robot that developed a technique for stiffening the material to deal with the difficulty of various fabrics from dense denim to stretchy knits. It looks like SoftWear Automation system uses overall pressure on the fabric to keep it from wiggling around, although the company’s solution is not completely clear.

Below, a Sewbot demonstrates a couple of sewing tasks.

Automated Sewbot to make 800,000 adidas T-shirts daily, Innovation in Textiles, August 3, 2017

Technology developed in the USA will be used by a Chinese company to supply European sports brand Adidas with T-shirts made in the US by robots. This is a major breakthrough in the automation of garment assembly by the global partnership.

Leading sportswear brand Adidas is planning to produce 800,000 T-shirts per day using fully automated Sewbot Workline’s supplied by SoftWear Automation, of Atlanta, GA. Tianyuan Garments Company, of Suzhou, China, the largest producer of apparel for Adidas worldwide, has partnered with SoftWear Automation to produce the T-shirts at Tianyuan’s newly acquired plant in Little Rock, AR, China Daily reports.

Using cameras to map the fabric and robots to steer it through the sewing needles, the system will handle soft fabrics and make the T-shirts for Adidas on the system which is scheduled to be fully operational by the end of next year.

“From fabric cutting and sewing to finished product, it takes roughly four minutes,” said 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 for Adidas.”

This is a big achievement for Atlanta based brand SoftWear Automation, which launched in 2012. The company’s Sewbots use a combination of patented high-speed computer vision and lightweight robotics to steer fabric to and through the needle with greater speed and accuracy than a human. The technology was developed by and is patented by Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center.

Tang said that with complete automation, the personnel cost for each T-shirt is roughly 33 cents. “Around the world, even the cheapest labour market can’t compete with us. I am really excited about this,” he said.

Tianyuan announced last October that it would invest $20 million in the 100,000-square-foot defunct Little Rock plant it had acquired. In time, it will bring 400 new jobs to Arkansas. The signing ceremony was witnessed by a Chinese textile delegation led by Xu Yingxin, vice-president of the China National Textile and Apparel Council.

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