The robotic revolution isn’t coming; it’s already here. For that you can thank—or blame—Sewbo, a Seattle-based startup that claims to have created the first industrial machine to sew a complete garment—a T-shirt, to be more precise. This watershed moment, according to the company, represents the “first time that a robot has been used to sew an entire article of clothing.” There’s a reason why automatic clothing production has never gone beyond a few computer-controlled cutting machines. Despite advances in manufacturing technology, mechanical arms have trouble grasping textiles, which lack the uniform integrity of, say, sheet metal. Sewbo sidesteps the problem by temporarily stiffening fabrics using a nontoxic, water-soluble polymer.
Slippery no more, their provisional rigidity allows the robot to use a suction grip to feed them directly into a sewing machine without shifting or puckering.
Once complete, the finished garment gets a quick bath to dissolve to stiffener (which can be reclaimed for reuse) and return it to its original pliability.
“Our technology will allow manufacturers to create higher-quality clothing at lower costs in less time than ever before,” Zornow said.
It’s hard to imagine motors, cogs, and servos ever replicating the dexterity of the human hand. While Sewbo doesn’t exactly mark the end of the human garment worker, it does suggest the beginning of the end, particularly with innovations such as three-dimensional printing becoming more ubiquitous.
“Our technology will allow manufacturers to create higher-quality clothing at lower costs in less time than ever before,” Jonathan Zornow, the technology’s inventor, said in a statement. “Avoiding labor issues and shortening supply chains will help reduce the complexity and headaches surrounding today’s intricate global supply network. And digital manufacturing will revolutionize fashion, even down to how we buy our clothes by allowing easy and affordable customization for everyone.”
Best get comfy with the idea though; automated clothing production is not just a matter of if, but when.