automated sewing Wal-Mart

Tianyuan Garments Co. of Suzhou, China, has partnered with SoftWear Automation of Atlanta to develop a fully automated T-shirt production line for Adidas. The collaboration will enable Tianyuan Garments to meet “instant order demands” from its clients via SoftWear’s fully automated sewing work-line technology.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Ninety-seven percent of all apparel in the U.S. is currently imported, according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association. Seeking to shift this dynamic is SoftWear, which aims to bring textile manufacturing back to the U.S. and create higher-wage jobs for its “Sewbot” supervisors, the company said. Palaniswamy “Raj” Rajan, SoftWear’s chairman and chief executive officer, said that “U.S. textile manufacturing will look different when it comes back, but it will be more productive and provide higher-paying jobs than before.”

SoftWear’s technology uses cameras to map fabric, which is then steered with sewing needles via its Sewbots. Through its proprietary computer vision system, SoftWear can view fabric more accurately than the human eye and track precise needle placement within half a millimeter of accuracy, according to the company. With SoftWear’s complete automation technology, the cost for manufacturing each Adidas T-shirt will be approximately 33 cents.

A look from Adidas Originals x Alexander Wang.

A look from Adidas Originals x Alexander Wang. 

Tang Xinhong, chairman of Tianyuan Garments, said that “From fabric cutting and sewing to finished product, it [the Sewbot process] takes roughly four minutes. 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.” Xinhong added, “Around the world, even the cheapest labor market can’t compete with us. I am really excited about this.” Tianyuan Garments will manufacture products at its newly acquired plant in Little Rock, Ark. The firm invested $20 million in the 100,000 square-foot space, which will bring 400 new jobs to Arkansas, the company said.

Xu Yingxin, the vice president of the China National Textile and Apparel Council, said, “The idea of Industry 4.0 and intelligent manufacturing is gradually becoming the reality. It is revolutionizing labor-intensive clothing manufacturing.” He added, “China attracted a lot of technology and equipment from the U.S. Many brands have entered China. Now, China is beginning to manufacture in the U.S.”

SoftWear recently received $4.5 million in financing from an existing investor, CTW Venture Partners. Its funding will speed the company’s development of fully automated “sewn good work-lines” for U.S. production. To continue meeting its customers’ demands, SoftWear plans to add 20 more employees, as the company’s sales grew 1,000 percent from 2015 to 2016 and is expecting to grow at the same rate through 2017.

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