Meeting the Demand: A Guide to Robotics in the Fashion Industry

MakersValley Blog | Meeting the Demand: A Guide to Robotics in the Fashion Industry
Mia McCarthy

Mia McCarthy

Think back to when the sewing machine was the latest technological innovation in apparel production, a time where efficiency quickly became the forefront concern of every fashion brand. Today, we live in a world where fashion and technology are integrated as one. Now, we see the emergence of robotics in the fashion industry rather than the stereotypical Hollywood movie robots that take over the world. From artificial intelligence to smart machines, robots have changed the game for fashion, but in what ways? Variances in machine size, function, and cost have required apparel companies to think twice before investing in integrating this new wave of technology into their operations. Here’s the why and how of it.

The Breakdown on Purchasing & Implementing Fashion Robots

According to the International Federation of Robotics, the industrial robotics market is set to see an average growth rate of 14% between 2018 and 2020. Fashion manufacturing has become increasingly complex due to an increase in demand along with a scarcity of skilled workers. Robotics have and will continue to simplify the production process in ways we’d never expect. Let’s take a look at potential robotics that can easily integrate into the production process.

The most common robot is the Articulated robot, a machine that uses a rotary joint system to complete tasks like assembly, pick and place, material removal, inspection, packaging, and dispensing. The Cartesian robots only move in long linear axes however they’re easy to program and very profitable. The Scara robot works on the vertical plane as well as the linear, making them faster and more flexible than the Cartesian system. Lastly, the Parallel robot can perform delicate and precise movements thanks to its articulated parallelogram base. All of these robots are automatically controlled by software, can be reprogrammed, and have the ability to carry our various functions. From a reprogrammable brain, specific software directs the robotic system to perform the correct function needed to complete a given task. 

MakersValley Blog: Meeting the Demand: A Guide to Robotics in the Fashion Industry

Easing into the world of automation is the best way to understand how to apply it directly to your business practices. It’s essential to look at your current manufacturing operations in order to decide what use of robots best fits your needs as a fashion brand, small company or not. With the rising demand for apparel, companies face the challenge of time and are developing strategic approaches to overcome this challenge. On a large scale, software controlled robots can routinely complete tasks throughout warehousing centers such as transporting materials and goods, with superhuman speed and precision, making the distribution process more efficient. As more time and money is invested into exploring technology, robotics in fashion production will continue to increase tremendously.

From the producer perspective the most important question on whether or not to incorporate robotic systems relays back to investment cost. Industrial robots can range significantly from $50,000 - $150,000 USD depending on variance in applications and the installation cost. However, reconditioned robots are less expensive and can cost as low as $25,000 USD. On a smaller scale, articulated robots such as the basic robotic arm, start at $5,000. As long as the robotic systems have proper workspace and task specific applications installed, there will be a clear increase in efficiency in exchange for these investments. Even with the smaller, single function robots, brands can task these tools to completing one redundant task rather than the entire process, still lowering their overall staffing needs on the factory floor as well as standardizing certain floor tasks.

One thing to consider is how incredibly difficult it is for fashion brands to adopt these practices and apply them to their daily operations. Technical difficulties and the need for human labor remain the biggest concerns that essentially hold industry leaders back from adopting the automation process. In an effort to prevent mishaps, technology companies are looking for alternative ways to better resolve how to use robotics to serve the fashion industry.

MakersValley Blog: Meeting the Demand: A Guide to Robotics in the Fashion Industry

Robotic Solutions in Real World Fashion Production

Shifting over to the actual creation of apparel, the meticulous task of working with sensitive material and fabrics has been dependent on armies of (typically underpaid) human laborers. Or at least up until recently! Jonathan Zornow is the creator of Sewbo, a sewing machine robot that chemically stiffens the fabric in order to produce a finished garment. By doing so, he simplified the difficult process working with delicate material by making it compatible with the robot. This fully automated process is still very new and excludes fabrics like wool and leather, but has made tremendous progress moving the world of fashion automation forward.

Another game changing technological innovation is the Sewbot known as LOWRY created by Softwear Automation. Taking a different approach, this Sewbot uses a calibrated machine with cameras to analyze and correct distortions in the fabric. It has the ability to cut, sew, add fabric, inspect for quality, and adapt to unique product specifications with the push of a button. The machine vision system is also said to have higher accuracy than the human eye when analyzing materials, creating a higher quality end product. These robots start at $5,000 per month with a remarkable product capacity of up to 1 million.

The more companies resolve existing issues that come with fashion manufacturing, the more they’re inclined to integrate highly technological tools into production. Robotic systems are an easy way to automate tasks while reducing the amount of production and labor costs associated with tedious processes.

With the large range of robotic systems out there, simplifying the manufacturing process has never been so easy. Yes, cost plays a big factor in the decision based on company resources, however as technology advances, these tools will only become less expensive and more accessible.

Instead of solely evaluating large, expensive robots housed in the permanent infrastructure of your owned manufacturer facilities, you can shift your focus to small autonomous, ad hoc robots that get the job done. Doing this helps eliminate the use of cheap labor in exchange for high quality products, at all time low costs, to better empower your producers to deliver quality products, faster.

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