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Exploring Advances in Robotic Apparel Manufacturing

By ARM Institute

The use of robots in apparel manufacturing has been extremely limited, but that is starting to change. The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute has been working with robotics companies and apparel manufacturers within its national consortium to solve some of the challenges that prevent more widespread use of this technology. This topic was the discussion of a recent webinar held on August 12 covering Innovations in Robotic Apparel Manufacturing. The purpose of the webinar was to share trends, insights, and expertise in apparel manufacturing with an emphasis on robotics. The panel discussion was comprised of ARM consortium members and staff including:

  • Arnie Kravitz, CTO, ARM Institute

  • Andrea Madho, CEO & Co-Founder, Lab141

  • John Martynec, EVP of Manufacturing and Operations, Hickey Freeman

  • Eric Spackey, CEO, Bluewater Defense

  • Giovanni Tracanella, VP of US Operations, Vibram

Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and funded by the Department of Defense, ARM has invested in over five projects in textile and wearable technology. These projects cover the development of a cost-effective robotic sewing system, robotic assembly of garments, and robotic assistance for fabric fusing operations, bottom hemming, and other assembly tasks.

The companies included in this panel discussion represented both market leaders and small innovative companies, along with defense contractors and footwear manufacturers, and all are doing their part to impact the factory of the future for apparel. Some of this innovation is seen at Lab141, which uses a patent-pending technology to eliminate the need for sizes and inventory for clothing brands. Its online platform with integrated made4me manufacturing supports a 48-hour turnaround from their network of global microfactories and ships direct-to-consumer. Similarly, 100+ year old clothing manufacturer Hickey Freeman is investing in factory and distribution channel automation to expand its fastest growing market segment—custom clothing. Hickey Freeman is very active with several ARM-sponsored projects while also producing Covid-related PPE (masks and gowns) in its facility. Bluewater Defense, one of the leading suppliers of uniforms for the military for over 30 years, is developing an on-demand manufacturing process, currently under trial, that leverages the latest body scanning, cutting, and sewing/assembly technology. Lastly Vibram, market leader in footwear components, has manufacturing facilities in the U.S., Europe, and Asia and is a major brand not only in retail but also is using new technologies to supply the U.S. military. The webinar in its entirety can be viewed here.

This panel will continue the discussion about The Factory of the Future as a part of the Texprocess Americas Virtual Symposium, a monthly webinar series that will begin in October. Stay tuned for more information.

Author: Annette Vickers, Senior Strategy and Market Analyst, ARM Institute

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