LITTLE ROCK - Upholstery furniture manufacturers should take note of a new technology - one that could perhaps change the industry.
 
SoftWear Automation, a manufacturer of automated sewing products, has received an investment from a Chinese company to develop a fully automated T-shirt production line for the company's facility in Little Rock, Arkansas.
 
Tianyuan Garments Co. of Suzhou, China, is using the robotic system, which uses cameras to map the fabric while robots steer it through sewing needles, to produce 800,000 Adidas T-shirts per day.
 
“From fabric cutting and sewing to finished product, it takes roughly four minutes,” says Tang Xinhong, chairman of Tianyuan Garments. “We will install 21 production lines. When fully operational, the system will make one T-shirt every 22 seconds. We will produce 800,000 T-shirts a day.”
 
The company’s patented computer vision systems, developed by Georgia Tech, view fabric more accurately than the human eye says SoftWear, tracking exact needle placement to within half a millimeter of accuracy.
 
Tianyuan will be able to produce each T-shirt with a personnel cost of only 33 cents.
 
“Around the world, even the cheapest labor market can’t compete with us. I am really excited about this,” says Tang.
 
The technology has allowed Tianyuan to invest $20 million into transforming a Little Rock 100,000-square-foot manufacturing plant into a state-of-the-art facility. The investment will bring 400 new jobs to Arkansas. The system is scheduled to be fully operational by the end of next year.
 
SoftWear Automation has received $4.5 million in financing from existing investor, CTW Venture Partners. The funding will accelerate the company’s development of fully-automated sewn-good work lines specifically for apparel production in the U.S. SoftWear Automation’s sales grew 1,000 percent from 2015 (started shipping product) to 2016. The company is on target to grow at the same rate through 2017, it says.
 
The technology could supplant workers around the world. There might not be a future need for garment workers.