The worldwide demand for sewn fabrics is huge, and set to increase over the next few decades thanks to a growing global economy and expanding population. From clothing to furniture and automotive upholstery, the textile industry is diverse and long established.
However, the way that textiles and sewn goods are produced is changing rapidly. The industry has always been subject to change, from the cottage weavers being replaced by the huge mills and spinning jennys in the late eighteenth century to the first mechanical sewing machines that were invented a century later.
Now, the industry stands on the brink of another revolution as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics are introduced to improve the way that textiles are produced. Computerised sewing machines have been in use for a number of decades, but new technologies mean that they are faster, more versatile and more precise than ever before.
Here’s a look at how AI is changing the textile industry.
Robotic sewing systems
Traditionally, sewing machines have needed to be operated by a skilled seamstress. While there is still a huge demand for experienced sewing operatives, some sewing tasks are now being replaced by robots. Sewing is a task that requires a high level of manual dexterity and attention to detail, otherwise errors and imperfections can soon occur.
Therefore the technologies that are required to handle multiple fine threads in a precise manner need to be very advanced. There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution (not at present in any case) and robotic sewing systems are purpose-built for specific tasks.
For example, some sewing machines are designed for handling heavy duty fabrics used in upholstery or outdoor equipment, while others are designed to cope with very fine threads and delicate fabrics. In order to achieve these tasks, the robotic systems are equipped with advanced sensors that allow them to make automatic adjustments and corrections.
The sensors use cameras that are capable of taking thousands of images per second and make fine tuned adjustments according to the position of the fabric and threads. Robotic arms are used to flip, cut and sew fabric without the need for any human labour.
This results in a product with accurate and consistent stitching and minimises the risk of faults. This can lead to a higher quality of product, and reduces the number of defective goods that have to be repaired, thrown away, recycled, or sold at below the market value.
Programmable machines for bespoke designs
AI automation allows for far more flexibility and versatility over the design process. For example, machines can be programmed to produce patterns, stitches and so on that are too complex or time consuming to be produced by human hand. This provides more choice for the customer and allows more creative freedom for designers.
Automated quality control
Rigorous quality control is essential to ensure high standards in the industry. AI quality control processes use highly advanced cameras that can instantly detect any flaws in a product. This eliminates the margin of human error and saves time and labour costs.