SoftWear Automation is a robotics company that wants to make T-shirts. "We want to make a billion T-shirts a year in the US, all made on demand," says SoftWear CEO Palaniswamy Rajan.
The company launched in 2012 with help from the Georgia Tech Advanced Technology Development Center and a contract with Darpa. Two years later, a prototype was up and running. By 2017 work began on developing a production line that could mass-produce shirts. That same year, the company struck a deal with a Chinese apparel manufacturer to set up a large production facility in Arkansas. That deal fell through, though, and SoftWear is now focused on opening its own garment factories.
The length of time it has taken to get to this point isn't surprising. Machines have proved adept at many steps in making clothes, from printing textiles to cutting fabric and folding and packaging finished garments.
But sewing has been notoriously difficult to automate, because textiles bunch and stretch as they're worked with. Human hands are adept at keeping fabric organized as it passes through a sewing machine. Robots typically are not deft enough to handle the task.
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