As well as T-shirts, SoftWear Automation is also working on automated workcells for jeans

As well as T-shirts, SoftWear Automation is also working on automated workcells for jeans

Chinese manufacturing giant TianYuan Garment Company – the largest producer of apparel for Adidas worldwide – is to make T-shirts in the US using a fully automated robotic workline.

The move was confirmed to just-style by Pete Santora, chief commercial officer at Atlanta based SoftWear Automation, whose Sewbot worklines will produce 800,000 T-shirts a day at TianYuan's new facility in Little Rock, Arkansas.

"From fabric cutting and sewing to finished product, it takes roughly four minutes [to produce a T-shirt using the worklines]," Tang Xinhong, chairman of Tianyuan Garments, told China Daily.

"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."

Tang added 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.

SoftWear Automation's fully automated Sewbot worklines combine patented computer vision with lightweight robotics to move fabric to and through the needle more efficiently than a human operator.

The technology will not only allow manufacturers to 'SewLocal' by moving their supply chains closer to the customer, but also have the potential to create higher quality products at a lower cost.

Speaking to just-style earlier this year, CEO Palaniswamy 'Raj' Rajan explained the automated 'Sewbot' driven worklines and workcells can also tackle a wider range of garment manufacturing challenges including the shortage of skilled labour in the US, the financial and environmental cost of transporting textiles and apparel over long-distances, and the increasing need for smaller production runs, more customisation and flexibility for design changes, faster turnaround times and reduced inventory requirements.

"Right now people move things around because labour is expensive. But with our line, that equation now changes," he noted.

Commenting on the TianYuan installation, Santora confirms: "We are only selling this in the US as part of our strategy to enable manufacturing closer to the customer."

While the challenge of getting robots to handle soft, flexible fabrics with the dexterity of the human hand is one of the most enduring reasons why automation and robotics have been slow to take hold in the sewing room, SoftWear Automation is also working on automated workcells for jeans hemming and binding. Also in its sights are fully automated lines for jeans and dress shirts.

Suzhou, China based TianYuan last October revealed its plans to set up the new US$20m facility in Little Rock, Arkansas, where it will create 400 jobs. The factory is expected to be operational by the end of 2017.

TianYuan specialises in the production of casual and sportswear for customers that also include Reebok and Armani. The company's annual production is around 10m pieces of clothing, with 90% of its garments currently supplied under the Adidas brand.

In addition to TianYuan, Shandong Ruyi is also making a $410m investment to set up a cotton yarn mill in Forrest City, also in Arkansas.

And Chinese company Shangying Global has made a move into the US with its first international acquisition, purchasing global apparel manufacturer, designer, and merchandiser Oneworld Star International (OSI) in a deal worth US$280m.  

Sewbots pave the way for the apparel factory of the future