Robots May Bring Apparel Manufacturing Back to the U.S.

robotclothesApparel manufacturing has been outsourced to other countries for years, much to the detriment of the American economy and job market. Manufacturing sectors rarely return once they go overseas, but a startup in Atlanta may just have a way to bring manufacturing back to American soil: robots.

SoftWear Automation Inc. is currently developing robotic sewing technology that will automate the apparel manufacturing process. What makes this startup different is that it doesn’t create custom hardware for manufacturing. It retrofits ordinary sewing machines to operate like 3D printers.

“Just as the 3D printer is changing traditional manufacturing and prototyping, our devices will allow designers to … fabricate their fashion line and create clothing beyond the capabilities and precision of human hands,” CEO K.P. Reddy told Upstart Business Journal.

Automation and other advanced manufacturing technologies have increased the United States’ ability to support large-scale production even with high labor costs, but that change hasn’t quite gotten to the apparel industry yet. The flexibility of textiles has made it much harder to manipulate by machine than materials like steel and wood.

Thanks to recent advancements in computing power and microprocessors, however, it’s looking more and more possible to automate industrial sewing. And it won’t even cost that much. In fact, between the low manufacturing costs and negligent shipping costs, manufacturers could end up saving a lot of money.

SoftWear uses a camera to position cloth, which is then cut by a sewing machine based on programmed coordinates. SoftWear is also developing an alternative to a conveyor belt, which hasn’t proven efficient for transporting lightweight fabric throughout a factory.

SoftWear already has the core technology to automate apparel manufacturing, and once the systems are fine-tuned, they’ll be sold to apparel manufacturers who create clothing for retailers. The company has already gathered millions in investments and is currently working on polishing its product for wide release.