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Automation and Robotics are Blessings in Apparel Industry

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Introduction

Currently the RMG industry is known as a global industry. Due to the universality of textile, it has become a subject of research in today’s world and millions of people/workers are involved in this industry. As we know, different textile products are made from different types of raw materials like natural or synthetic fibers, yarns and fabrics. Once, the whole process of this industry was done using only hand-operated machine and simple technology. Gradually the use of technology began to increase and due to the ever-new demands in today’s modern age, various researchers and entrepreneurs have started researching and focusing on several advanced modern equipment and technological aspects thinking for product quality improvement and higher production and maintain better quality. Currently two such topics are automation and robotics. Automation and robotics are most commonly used in the apparel industry. The survival of a garment industry in the global market depends on the advanced technology, automation equipment and skills, which are used in the design, production process and supply of the industry, ranging from designing to manufacturing.  There is no doubt that automation can increase production efficiency, reduce the number of faults and reduce the overall cost of production. Some developing countries want to adopting advanced technology but budget constraints prevent the garment manufacturers to adopt such technology. But in order for the garment industry to survive in the market, it needs to be able to produce more flawless products in less time and at lower cost.

What is Automation and Robotics?

Automation is a special mechanization process, where it is possible to increase production easily, in less time and with high efficiency through the use of automated equipment, machine equipment and modern technology.  Automation means reducing the workload of the employees in different sections of the factory by coordinating with several machines with the help of automatic control panel.  As a result, more textile products are being produced in less time with less labor.  So, in simple words, automation is the process of mechanization or doing things automatically.  On the other hand, the branch of technology that discusses the design, construction and application of robots is called robotics.  The robot is a man-made automated system that works exactly the way humans are told to. Robots are starting to be used in the swing section in the apparel industry.

Application of Automation & Robotics in Apparel Industry

There is a widespread use of automation and robotics in the production of garments including Fabric Inspection, CAD & CAM, Grading, Pattern Making, Fabric Spreading and Cutting, Sewing, Pressing, Material Handling an Radio Frequency Identification (RFID).

Automatic Fabric Inspection

automatic-fabric-spreading-machine

Figure 1: Fully Automatic Fabric Spreading M/C

Previously, fabric inspections were performed in a manual process, so many times defects could not be accurately identified.  The use of automated tools and equipment helps to enhance the efficiency of the fabric inspection process.  Various techniques like Statistical Approach, Spectral Approach and Model-based Approach can be adopted for automatic fabric inspection.  In all of these methods, the fabric image is manipulated by a software or modeling tool to gather information about the severity of the fabric error.  The identified errors are automatically identified on the fabric and some points are allocated depending on the degree and severity of the error.  If the quantity of defects in a fabric lot exceeds a certain limit, they are rejected.

Computer Aided Design & Computer Aided Manufacturing

In the past, clothing was designed manually.  So that a lot of time was spent and the design was recorded on paper.  But now garment manufacturers use CAD and CAM to make garments.  CAD is used to create 3D designs of clothing using computer, then CAD sends that information to CAM.  And CAM controls and manages the production process according to that information.  CAD is widely used not only in 3D design but also in Grading, Pattern Making, Fabric Structure, Cutting, Printing, Body Scanning sections.

Automatic Fabric Spreading

Long ago this work was done manually, workers spread the fabric by hand and required greater number of workers to complete the task.  Then about the semi-automatic machine, where a single worker operates the machine and completed the task. But in today’s world, fabric spreading can be done with the help of fully automatic machine with a smart touch panel. Automatic Fabric Spreading machine easily completed the tasks (like spreading, counting and cutting each ply) quickly by keeping the length-width as per the saved programs given by the operator. The fabric is automatically spread through the machine for the specified length and ply number and after exceeding the specified length the speed of the machine for sensor activity slows down and the fabric is spun with a sharp knife keeping the grain line straight.  The machine shuts off automatically when the specified ply number is exhausted again.

Automatic Fabric Cutting

This method accustomed be done manually however currently automatic fabric cutting machine is being employed.  As a result, it’s potential to cut the fabric additional accurately than before.  In step with the look of the garment currently the look of that pattern is saved directly within the memory while not creating marker paper and in step with that instruction the cutting machine automatically cuts multiple layers of fabric in a time, in a very short time and accurately. The work of cutting this fabric is additionally done somewhere using laser.  The use of automatic cutting machines has reduced both the requirement of number of workers and the time compared to manually operated machines. On the other hand, accuracy and efficiency have also increased. Below are the names of some of the automatic cutting machines-

  1. Bullmer cut: Premiumcut, Turbocut.
  2. Tukatech’s CNC Automatic Cutting Machine: Tukacut.
  3. Turkey based Serkon Tekstil Makina
  4. France based Lectra
  5. Germany based Kuris Spezialmaschinen GmbH
  6. Italy based Morgan Tecnica S.p.A.
  7. Switzerland based Zund Systemtechnik AG
  8. Germany based Eurolaser GmbH

Laser Cutting Machine

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Figure 2: Laser Cutting: Elektron Quattro

In a computer-controlled laser cutting machine, the fabric can be cut through a ray of light using a laser. This laser cutting machine is widely used in leather and garment industry. Fashion designers often use this technology in various design developments. When cutting synthetic fabrics, the laser melts the synthetic fibers and fuses at the ends, generally using a gas (CO2) laser to cut the fabric. However, the only limitation of laser cutting is that this method can cut a single or few plies of fabric well, but cannot cut more fabric ply together preciously.

Automation & Robotization in Sewing Technology

In many countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos most of the garment manufacturing process especially the sewing section is still done by skilled workers. Manufacturers have not made much progress in purchasing automatic sewing machines or equipment. This may help them to keep their investments low. But manufacturers that do not invest in modern equipment face stiff competition to keep labor costs low. Now a days, for the robotization of the sewing process, industrial robots are being built that can handle fabrics during sewing activities, where no need large amount of worker. The seam forming process in all these automatic machines is similar to the conventional sewing machine. Different types of sewing such as overlock stitch, double chain stitch, double lock stitch etc. can be formed by automatic machine.

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Figure 3: Automation and Robotics in Sewing

Industrial Robot (SEWBO)

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Figure 4: SEWBO

Sewbo is an industrial robot used for fabric gripping and handling in the garment industry.  There are some experimental trials of sewing whole garments using sewing robots. One such example is the Zornow’s robot “Sewbo” which can automatically handle pieces of cloth during sewing. The robot “Sewbo” invented by Jonathan Zornow in 2015 can sew a T-shirt completely from scratch.  This success is a milestone in achieving 100% automation to create a complete wardrobe.  Robots are often programmed for a specific size and style. If the size or style of clothing changes, the robot has to be reprogrammed.

Sewing Robot (LOWRY SewBot)

LOWRY SewBot was invented in 2012 by Atlanta-based company “Software Automation” in the United States, a special type of robot designed for the RMG industry. Automatic sewing robot has the power to deliver a range of products regardless of the size and shape of the fabric. These SewBots are built using advanced technologies such as computer vision or advanced robotics and artificial intelligence, which may analyze and manipulate fabric like human. Sewing bots perform multiple garments making tasks like cutting, sewing, labeling, inspecting, etc. But the amazing thing is that all these tasks are controlled with just one touch panel.

Multiple capabilities of SewBot reduce the demand of apparel manufacturers by 50-70%. In the United States, where SewBot was invented, it costs $7.48 to make a denim shirt on a human sewing line, but only $0.33 on a robotic production line. Also, it makes an average of 669 t-shirts in a human sewing line in just 8 hours. There is a robotic sewing line that is capable of delivering 1142 T-shirts, which means production will increase by almost 71%.  According to the China Daily, an experiment was conducted at Taiwan Garments, where it takes about 4 minutes to complete cutting and sewing the fabric and give the final product. Their plan is that if 21 production lines are set up and fully operational, the system will issue one T-shirt every 22 seconds and they will be able to make 800,000 t-shirts per day for Adidas.

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Figure 5: LOWRY SewBot

Robotic 3D Sewing Technology

The use of robotic 3D sewing technology can explore new confines in sewing as it can produce prime quality and sophisticated garments. Philipp Moll GmbH & Co. made-up a 3D Sewing Technology, that might automatically make 3D Seam. 3D sewing technology can make garments like trousers, jackets, shirts etc. and car seat covers, airbags also.  This 3D technology will facilitate in achieving higher quality of high-quality sewed textile products.  3D sewing technology conjointly helps reduce labor costs and increase productivity.

Automated Binding, Button & Button-hole Sewing Machine

A selection/picking pad was displayed at ITMA 2019 through a cooperative project of Spain-based AB Industries. The system uses a simple gripping or controlling parts and may simply scoop up work pieces with a 360 degrees robotic arm. The technology is recently under development at AB Industries and has not yet been commercialized. Sewing is the most vital textile attachment and joining process. The various semi-automatic sewing units are commercially on the market from a variety of suppliers, as well as Japan-based Juki Corporation, Italy-based Remake, and Germany-based Duerkopp Adler AG. The Juki has demonstrated some automatic sewing machines for buttons and buttonholes, whereas the remake features an automatic binding machine for finishing the rounded corners of the bed, floor carpets and various things. Also, the Duerkopp Adler sewing m/c used to sew double welt pockets.

Automation in Pressing/Calendering

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Figure 6: Robotics in Calendering

Pressing means the application of heat, moisture and pressure properly to give a smooth shape and crease on garments. It is one of the important sections to enhance the aesthetics of the product before the garments reach the customers.  Pressing operation is completed to get rid of any crease mark in the garments, so that the customer appearance engaging once he buys it. Finding and retentive accomplished and expert workers for pressing operations is always a difficult task. Operators migrate to different sectors for higher salaries once they gain decent and enough skills. As a result, there is a shortage of delicate and passionate workers in this sector. These issues are often solved by adopting automation strategies in the pressing sector. Though there are many technological advances in the pressing sector, the number of automation tools has been limited. However, a variety of advanced technologies like pressing robots, jacket finishers, shirt finishers and shirt press area unit are being commercially accessible. Important enhancements in pressing, among other areas, are essential for productive and successful automation of the entire garment producing methods.

Use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

Radio Frequency Identification is a technology that uses electromagnetic fields to detect the movement of objects. The usage of RFID technology helps in tracing the products during the total manufacturing process and may additionally help in the automation system during the manufacture of garments. There are many uses of RFID technology in the apparel industry such as – Inventory Management, Product Tracking, Production Monitoring & Control, Retail Management etc. RFID technology offers the potential benefits of Supply Chain Management by increasing the efficiency and speed of the process, reducing wastages and improving data accuracy.

PROTRACKER

protracker

Figure 7: PROTRACKER

PROTRACKER is the first Bangladeshi real time production tracking software used in RMG industry with the following modules – order tracking, cutting droplet, print drop, input drop, sewing drop, washing droplet, finishing droplet, IE droplet and MISS report. This software handles the entire manufacturing process from order details management to production, from product shipping to shipment which can be fully integrated with any other management software. Besides, all the activities of the factory are shown all the time on a big monitor. This enables the RMG industry to comprehend at any time whether or not the required the product is being produced. So, we can say that, this software is a real time garments production tracking system.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is a one kind of software system that integrates all the departments and functions across a business into a single system, i.e., it helps you to run your entire business, including processes in finance, manufacturing, supply chain, services and procurement. This software uses the latest technologies to provide intelligence, visibility and efficiency across every aspect of a business. This software is designed to help businesses make smarter decisions and serve their customers better and work more efficiently overall by automating processes and workflows.

Some Automatic Machines Used in Apparel Industry

Automatic Pocket Creasing Machine
Automatic Sleeve Placket Creasing Machine
Automatic Label Cutting & Creasing Machine
Automatic Label Cutting & Creasing Machine
Automatic Poly Bagging Machine
Collar Point Cutting & Turning Machine
Collar & Cuff Forming Press
Automatic Workstation for Collar or Cuff Run Stitching or Top Stitching
1-Needle Lock Stitch Machine with Automatic Thread Trimmer
1-Needle Lock Stitch Machine Equipped with Program Control
Automatic Thread Trimmer
Micro Computer-Controlled Button Holing Machine
Button Sewing Machine with Automatic Button Feeder
Modern Fusing and Pressing Machine
Automatic Cycle Machines for Attaching Velcro in Jackets
Automatic Material Handling Device

Scopes of Textile Automation

1) More Production in Less Time: Due to the automation and robotization in apparel industry, it is possible to produce and export more products/garments in less time. Earlier the tasks were done by workers & employees, but workers couldn’t work non-stop, at one time they might get tired and needed a short break. But as a result of automation, more products are now being produced non-stop and at the same time.

2) Increase in Product Quality: Due to the automation, manufacturing higher quality and flawless products than before. When labors work, there was always the risk of making faults for various reasons. But automation has greatly reduced that risk and now according to the pre command program, the tasks are being done automatically with the help of a robot.

3) Reducing Labor Dependency: Reducing the number of labors in the various steps of automation in the RMG sector. In some cases, this automation has reduced the number of labors by almost 50-60% and in some cases up to 90%.  As a result, the same work is being done with less labor than before, but in less time. Therefore, the amount of labor wages has decreased in the production of goods in any sector.

5) Increased Demand for Skilled Textile Workers: Since automation has reduced the number of workers in the textile industry and where previously 150-200 workers were needed, now only 10-12 workers/operators are working. Technically skilled personnel are required to operate this state-of-the-art and advanced equipment. So, with automation the demand for skilled textile workers is increasing.

6) Decreasing Lead Time: In the age of fast fashion every buyer wants products in a short time and at a low price. At present Bangladesh is lagging behind its competitors in lead time management. Like Vietnam and Cambodia having almost half the lead time of Bangladesh. Therefore, in order to increase the output of the industries of Bangladesh and to deal with the harsh lead time, they need to set up automatic production line.

Threats of Textile Automation

1) High Investment Costs: With the use of automation and robotics in the textile industry, the amount of investment has increased manifold. This is because it includes some equipment and tools that are capable of performing multiple tasks at once, resulting in costs ranging from thousands to millions of dollars.

2) Rising Unemployment: As a result of automation and robotization, 70-80 percent of the workers has been reduced in different stages, i.e., these workers are losing their jobs. This will increase the unemployment rate in the country. According to the World Bank, the number of new jobs added to the textile and apparel industry has dropped to 60,000 a year from 300000 annually between 2003 and 2010. According to the Bangladesh government’s a2i project and ILO, about 60% of garments workers/labors in Bangladesh will be unemployed by 2041 and will be replaced by automatic and robotic sewing machines.

3) Unexpected Production Delays: This is often the case when automated machines malfunction, then suddenly stop working. And these automated machines also take longer to repair, so production will be delayed. Thus, the whole production line will be due to error or non-functioning of an automatic machine.

4) Sometime Limited Scope: It is not possible to automate machines in all the processes involved in garment production, as automation of some machines is often complicated and expensive. In the case of sewing the garment, the flexibility of the fabric, the proper alignment of the fabric pieces & the correct timing and fabric slippage limit the scope of automation in garment production.

Conclusion

In today’s world, robotics and automation are widely used in the garment industry. Significant productive robotics is already being developed in the apparel industry. But there is no scope for much study on the application of robotics and automation in garment production. As a result, the applications of robots in the garment industry have not changed much except for conventional handling, assembly, welding, cutting, etc. Therefore, our garment manufacturers need to invest in further research into the application of robotics in this industry and take some necessary steps. From the above discussion we now understand that robotics and automation in the textile and garment industries are essential for increasing productivity and prosperity.  So, there is no comparison between robotics and automation in the textile and apparel industries to survive in this competitive market and keep pace with the competing countries.

References:

  1. Application of Robotics in Textiles By: Prof. Tanveer Malik & Prof. Shivendra Parmar, Faculty, Dept. of Textile Technology, Shri Vaishnav Institute of Science and Technology
  2. https://textilelearner.net/automation-and-robotics-in-apparel-industry/ | Accessed on 11/11/2021
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  4. https://www.fibre2fashion.com/industry-article/1635/robotics-in-textile-industry-a-global-scenario | Accessed on 13/11/2021
  5. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/351720766_Robotics_and_Automation_in_Textile_Industry | Accessed on 12/11/2021
  6. https://www.textileblog.com/application-of-robotics-in-textile-industry/ | Accessed on 13/11/2021
  7. https://textilevaluechain.in/in-depth-analysis/articles/textile-articles/automation-in-apparel-industry/ | accessed on 13/11/2021
  8. https://www.textileworld.com/textile-world/features/2020/03/automated-cutting-sewing-developments/ | Accessed on 14/11/2021
  9. https://www.textileblog.com/automation-and-robotic-in-sewing-technology/ | Accessed on 13/11/2021

https://motif.org/news/automated-sewing-robots/ | Accessed on 13/11/2021