Chinese apparel company Tianyuan Garments Co. plans to open a $20 million factory in Little Rock, using 330 robots from U.S.-based robotics company Softwear Automation.
Tianyuan — which supplies apparel to Adidas, Armani and Reebok — will produce t-shirts at the new factory for a cost of 33¢ per shirt. The “sewbots” used can produce a single shirt in 26 seconds. This move comes as Chinese companies are looking to automate to save costs because wages are rising as well as move production closer to market to reduce consumer wait times.
The new factory will create 400 jobs, mainly for machine operators, in the city and is the first apparel production line for Softwear Automation.
While the sewbots are now going to be used by a Chinese company setting up shop in the U.S., their development was originally funded by a $1.8 million grant from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to Softwear Automation.
After it was revealed that the American Olympic Team’s uniforms were made in China in 2012, the Pentagon found that the country’s military uniforms were also being outsourced to Vietnam and China. To cut costs, increase efficiency and keep production in America, DARPA awarded a contract to Softwear Automation, which was started by a retired GA Tech professor researching automation, to develop “complete production facilities that produce garments with zero direct labor.”
The company creates fully automated work cells that automatically make a sewn item like a piece of clothing, a bathmat or a pillow. This involves controlling the cutting and sewing machines based on machine vision and moving coil servo motors. The sewing machines have servo controlled rotations so that sewing can be dynamically changed in direction without fabric rotation.
The company is working on setting up the automated worklines for t-shirts and is developing work cells for jeans, binding and hemming.