Made to measure | The Economist
There have been many attempts to automate sewing. Some processes can now be carried out autonomously: the cutting of fabric, for instance, and sometimes sewing buttons or pockets. But it is devilishly difficult to make a machine in which fabric goes in one end and finished garments, such as jeans and T-shirts, come out the other. The particularly tricky bit is stitching two pieces of material together. This involves aligning the material correctly to the sewing head, feeding it through and constantly adjusting the fabric to prevent it slipping and buckling, while all the time keeping the stitches neat and the thread at the right tension. Nimble fingers invariably prove better at this than cogs, wheels and servo motors.
Tue Jun 28 21:29:30 2016 - permalink -
Steve Dickerson, the founder of SoftWear Automation, a textile-equipment manufacturer based in Atlanta, where Dr Dickerson was a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Instead of measuring the fabric the robotic sewing machine counts the number of threads to determine the stitching position. As a consequence, any distortion to the fabric made by each punch of the needle can be measured extremely accurately.
Dr Dickerson patented the idea in 2012 and won a $1.3m research contract from DARPA,
The military interest in sewing arises from a 1941 requirement that the department gives preference to American suppliers when buying uniforms.
This uses a vacuum grip to pick up pieces of fabric and move them to another machine,
robotic sewing will be attractive to American fashion brands wanting to bring production closer to home and produce garments rapidly to catch new trends.
With designs and samples shuttling to and from Asian factories, it can take months before new clothes finally turn up in other American and European stores—by which time they can be out of fashion.
Jack Plunkett, of Plunkett Research, a market-research company, says pressure on Asian clothing manufacturers to keep wages low while improving working conditions is leading many to look at automation, too
Flyknit uses a computer-controlled knitting machine to automatically weave strands of polyester yarn into the shape of the upper part of a shoe, instead of having it manually stitched together from individual panels, the way most trainers are made in Asian factories. Nike
Shoemakers are already using 3D printers, which build up material additively, to make prototypes of shoes
However, researchers are working on ways to print more flexible materials. One such project involves a collaboration between Disney, Cornell University and Carnegie Mellon University.