In 2018, the Chinese group Tianyuan Garments will open a brand new factory in Arkansas, home to an army of self-sufficient Sewbots robots capable of manufacturing nearly 1.2 million t-shirts a year – directly on American soil – under the supervision of a handful of technicians only.
Last year, President Trump based much of his election campaign on his ability to repatriate some of the companies producing manufactured goods at lower cost in foreign countries (read in CNN), notably in China.
Regularly the target of the ire of the American leader (read here), the Middle Empire is described by many as being a country using social dumping to produce cheap products subsequently resold in the United States, such as clothing carrying her daughter’s claw (read in Newsweek).
The situation is changing. But not in the direction hoped for by The Donald.
A stand alone robot
Indeed, the Chinese Tianyuan Garments Company will open its new factory in 2018, in the middle of the US territory. In Arkansas, 21 production lines made up of weavers will be able to manufacture 100,000 t-shirts a month.
With this production rate, the Chinese factory will be able to compete with the costs of making t-shirts in China and then cargo transport to their place of sale.
The plant will be one of the first in the world to use SewBot machines, developed by SoftWear Automation, based in Atlanta. Eventually, this process could transform the landscape of the world textile industry.
The Sewbot robot was developed at the Research Center for Advanced Technologies of the University of Georgia Tech, in a program launched there nearly a decade. In 2012, researchers were finally awarded a grant by DARPA – the Department of Innovation integrated with the US Department of Defense – to develop the process for its commercialization.
By 2015, Softwear Automation was marketing a simpler version of its robot weaver, able to produce bath mats or towels at an incredible rate.
The evolution of this machine, the stand-alone robot deployed within the plant in Little Rock (Arkansas), will now be able to manufacture t-shirts and partially produce jeans pants.
The customer of Softwear Automation, the Chinese Tianyuan Garments Company, has already indicated that the goal was to produce the equivalent of 800,000 t-shirts a day with its fleet of machines. A figure is hardly believable since it is robots autonomous.
The death of textile jobs?
To maintain and supply and maintain this precision machinery, the plant should create about 400 jobs. But it is, of course, a figure not commensurate with the volume of employees needed for a more ‘traditional’ production.
Moreover, SoftWear Automation is trying to change the idea that its weaving robots are preparing to cause a real slaughter in the textile sector.
According to a study carried out in-house, the manufacturer explains that a robot such as the SewBot generates between 50 and 100 jobs in its value chain, in particular because it makes it possible to obtain the label ‘Made In USA’ and leaves the opportunity for the clothing brand to invest in the purchase of local raw materials, increasing the demand for labor in the surrounding area.
Apparently, this version seems a bit optimistic. But the Sewbot has other advantages: the Fashion for Good initiative, which tries to make the textile sector aware of environmental issues, estimates that the Sewbot could help reduce the sector’s emissions by about 10%.