The apparel industry — one of the world’s biggest manufacturing sectors — remains totally dependent on manual labor. The last time any technology significantly overhauled the textile industry was back in 1842, when the invention of the sewing machine came into existence. Today, robots can handle various parts of the garment-making process, like cutting of fabric, but human efforts are still required to feed fabric into sewing machines. With a vision to change this aspect of the textile industry, experienced web developer and inventor, Jonathan Zornow conceived a system called Sewbo. The proof-of-concept for this system was the first instance of a robot sewing a T-shirt.
Sewbo was designed to solve one of the biggest barriers of automating garment manufacturing. Sewbo’s mission is to bring industrial automation to clothing factories, one which serves the robotics industry as well, by opening up an absolutely massive manufacturing space for all the robot suppliers, integrators, and engineers who served other industries.
Sewbo’s core technology is a method for temporarily stiffening fabrics, to make them more easily handled by its off-the-shelf industrial robots. The water-soluble thermoplastic treatment also allows the textiles to be molded and temporarily welded to each other – this means that they can make clothing factories look more like car factories.
The Man behind the Act
The Founder of Sewbo, Jonathan Zornow, was motivated by the minimal use of automation in the apparel industry, and started working for more technology advancements in this manufacturing process. Zornow’s academic background is in economics and has also worked as a software developer before being inspired to tackle this challenge. After many long nights playing around with polymers and robots, he was able to successfully sew a T-Shirt using a robot – which he mentions to be the most important milestone that led to the creation of Sewbo.
“I’m trying to bridge the gap between the traditional tools for automation – meaning off the shelf robot arms, and motion controllers, programming tools – and the apparel industry,” says Jonathan. “To do that, I’m essentially bringing the materials of the industry in line with the existing automation paradigm. So, by temporarily stiffening fabrics, I’m able to make it much easier for off the shelf industrial robots to handle them like it was sheet metal or cardboard. From there, you can leverage all of the existing automation tools that have been used so successfully in other industries.”
Achievements and Recognitions of Sewbo
Sewbo was able to create the world’s first robotically-sewn garment, an important achievement marking a major milestone for the industry – possibly the most pivotal since the invention of the sewing machine, over a hundred years ago. When Sewbo announced the feat back in 2016, International media outlets like the BBC, CBS, Financial Times, The Telegraph, MIT Technology Review, Fast Company and others were quick to feature the news.
Created to Stand Out!
The apparel industry has been desperate for the inclusion of automation, and has been looking for solutions concerning the same for quite a while. Though Sewbo succeeded in shaping the sewing concept, other companies are still struggling due to the lack of knowledge about the apparel manufacturing process. Moreover, as the process had prerequisite robots, it allowed Jonathan to devise a solution without any preconceptions and guidance in execution.
The basic process of assembling clothing hasn’t changed since Sewbo started to rethink about the process of sewing machines. For this reason, the industry is sceptical about the new technologies emerging within the industry and there are relatively few specialized investors or companies in this space to template after. It was also challenging to put the team together in Sewbo, as there are no hordes of robot-sewing – especially in the United States, where Sewbo is based. In fact, the decline of American clothing manufacturing has been a big hindrance to move the project forward as the company would like to.
Future through the eyes of the Creator
As Sewbo’s technology is still under development for commercialization, the company aspires to see their technology used in production settings in the near future. Moreover, Sewbo is looking out for more innovations, bringing their tools in the industry and intending to experiment a lot more with technology, to see the industry come into a more modern place with regards to all of the things that could be done with software and applications.
The company also desires to design software on the computer, wherein upon pressing the Print command, it could have enough information inherent for a robotic sewing station to cut and sew up a sample, much similar to a 3D printer. This yet to be developed mechanism would involve digital printing and modern pattern making and cutting, which would require a lot of automated sewing. Even though the technology is still in its development phase, it’s a definite possibility down the road. By standardizing technologies and embracing digital workflows today, apparel companies can position themselves to best take advantage of emerging technologies as they mature.
Jonathan asserts, “There are so many different tools out there; you never know what one designer is going to be trained on, or what the company is going to be using. In all likelihood – at least from what I’ve seen – the designer is only going to be passively familiar with the modern design tools and their work isn’t going to use it at all. The most hi-tech stuff I see in a garment factory is usually pattern digitization, grading, and plotting or cutting tools.”