An increasing number of companies rely on robotics to achieve goals such as better efficiency and accuracy. Perhaps you’re curious about which textile-related tasks could lend themselves to process optimization with robots. Here’s a closer look.
Catering to customers’ various body sizes
When fashion brands fail to produce products that fit and flatter most of their customers, they’ll have excessive stock and may deal with an above-average return rate. Ill-fitting clothes also negatively impact sustainability when designs require using lots of fabric for garments that people are not likely to buy.
Audrey-Laure Bergenthal, CEO and founder of robotics company Euveka, hopes to tackle such issues with a robotic mannequin.
She explains, “designers or fashion brands could change their ‘standard models’ and create pieces or collections that would be more accurate to fit and sizing. This supports the diversity of morphologies but also impacts the environment because a collection that fits better yields fewer unsold items, which would otherwise end up in landfills or incinerators.”
After getting a person’s measurements, the robot changes to the specific shape in less than two minutes. A user can then store those specifics in a digital database, allowing the creation of other custom-sized products without the client present.
Accelerating denim finishing
Denim finishing plays a significant role in how completed materials look and feel. Whiskering is an often utilized technique to add horizontal lines to the upper thigh areas of jeans. Other finishing techniques include stone washing and adding abrasive features to the material for a distressed look.
Collaborative robots are among the emerging trends in advanced machinery. Such pieces of equipment let humans work alongside them, combining the efforts of people and machines.
A new product from Jeanologia shows what’s possible. It’s a robot that finishes 10,000 jeans in 24 hours without overuse of the associated chemicals. The process needs two employees to put the jeans on hangers and load them into the machine.
The machine does the rest with components that include eight lasers and two robots. A few textile manufacturers in the United States and Tunisia already use the device, which helps get five million pairs of jeans ready for sale per year.
Enhancing how companies work with threads
Textile brands commonly benefit from automation now by using winding equipment. That category includes spool machines, which are instrumental in helping companies use threads, yarn and even rope efficiently.
Some winding machines let users set maximum diameters for spools. The full spool is automatically changed out for an empty one at the appropriate time. Since textile companies use such large quantities of materials per day or week, that kind of automation is crucial for ensuring a smooth workflow.
Robots may eventually revolutionize how brands create products with thread, too. For example, Adidas has a Futurecraft.STRUNG project that uses robots to strategically place different types of yarn to create tennis shoe uppers. A color-coded system resulted in threads serving particular functions depending on the hue. For example, the stiffer red ones provide heel stability, while more pliable yellow ones give more forefoot flexibility.
The robots used in this case weave threads diagonally, creating shoes for serious runners that want to shave seconds off their times. However, you could easily envision other possibilities, such as pants with extra threads in the areas that most often wear out through intensive use.
Transporting fabric loads
Managing the operations at a busy textile facility requires planning how to move materials to the right locations as they go through various processing stages. One company made progress with that need by using autonomous robots.
It previously relied on human-operated forklifts to carry dozens of tons of fabrics to the right areas of the facility. However, switching to robotic solutions caused a 122% increase in the total amount of materials moved per day.
Company representatives reported that fabric transport was once one of the most time-intensive tasks for workers. Employees often took a few hours to deliver materials to all the necessary places in the five-story facility.
However, the robots can navigate through the area with fewer interruptions, due in part to advanced sensing materials that let them steer clear of potential obstacles, like fabric cages. Additionally, workers control the machines through a centralized interface. It uses artificial intelligence to streamline how a robot travels to transport jobs.
Making textile tests occur more efficiently
Some products made by textile companies must pass tests before arriving on the market. For example, the face masks and other garments worn by health care workers must provide at least a certain amount of measurable protection against germs.
The typical process of getting such products certified to sell involves sending them to specialized facilities. However, you can imagine the extra logistical challenges of doing that during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly since the tests may take weeks to finish. That’s why a professor and students at Northwestern University are building a machine learning-powered robot to assist with the task.
This approach requires human supervision, but the goal is to fit the machine with a frame that can accommodate various wearable accessories and be picked up by a robot. The idea is that a human would place the item on the frame, then step away from it before testing. That’s because some fabrics are slippery and hard for robot hands to grip.
This project is still in the early stages and not yet commercially available. However, it gives you an idea of the possibilities on the horizon.
Robots take the textile sector to new heights
These exciting examples show why it should pay off for textile brands to invest in robots or at least consider them. Doing so could help companies become more competitive.