This research effort eventually grew to include several clothing companies, including Levi’s and Bluewater Defense LLC, a small US-based manufacturer of military uniforms. He received a $1.5 million grant from the Robotics Institute of Pittsburgh to experiment with the technology.
There are also other attempts to automate sewing factories. Software Automation Inc., a startup in Georgia, has developed a machine that can sew T-shirts, for example, by drawing material over a specially equipped table.
Eric Spanky, CEO of uniform maker Bluewater Defense, was part of the research effort with Siemens, but is skeptical of the Savebo approach. “Putting (hardening) the material into the garment—it just adds another process,” says Spanky, which drives up costs, though he adds that it may make sense for producers who are already using that as part of their normal operation. Washes clothing as a part, such as a jeans manufacturer.
The first step is to bring robots into the clothing factories.
Sanjeev Behl, who opened a small jeans factory called Setex in downtown Los Angeles two years ago, has studied the Savebo machines and is preparing to install his first pilot machine.
Walking through his factory in September, he pointed to workers hunched over old-style machines and said many of these tasks are ripe for the new process.
“If it works,” he said, “I see no reason not to manufacture (jeans) on a large scale in America again.”