Sewbo is a sewing-machine-like machine with a smart robotic arm and is the first robot that can assemble and sew together a complete item of clothing. It was created by Seattle-based web developer Jonathan Zornow. This robot could spell the end to slave labor sweatshops that manufacture low-cost garments in cheap labor countries like China, Bangladesh, and the Philippines.
There are actually specialist machines today that are in clothing manufacturing that sew only small sections of a garment, weave fabrics, and cuts material into the right length or shape. However, until Sewbo was invented, no robot has been able to assemble and sew clothing in its entirety.
Sewbo has been invented to manufacture higher quality clothing at lower costs. The Sewbo robot overcomes the traditional problem that robots have in handling limp fabrics by temporarily stiffening the fabrics with a liquefied version of a thermoplastic chemical used in 3D printing. Basically, the Sewbo robot is made up of a Universal Robot arm, a traditional sewing machine, and the reusable thermoplastic solution. The whole machine costs around $35,000 or £27,000.
The thermoplastic solution acts like a glue on two pieces of fabric to be sewn together and is welded together by an ultrasonic welder, and are attached, picked up, and fed into the sewing machine by the arm. The concept for Sewbo is not that different from industrial robots that work on sheet metal materials. After the item is completed, it is rinsed off in hot water to dissolve the water-soluble plastic polymer.
The robot’s 30-year old inventor stated that since the robot can be programmed to repeat one action, manufacturers can be expected to use an assembly line of Sewbo robots, each being able to complete a single task before passing the clothing item to the next robot. Thus, Sewbo robots can be based in manufacturing plants within the countries where the clothes will be sold, reducing the monetary, social, and environmental costs of large supply chains.
Zornow now hopes to partner with people in the clothing manufacturing industry who may see a need and interest in automating their clothing production for faster mass production. The inventor further explains that some years back he was amazed that clothes manufacturers still made clothes by hand, some factories having not a single robot at all. For such a large industry this seemed like an incredibly inefficient process, and what many people believed could not be solved through technology. But, just like the person in the 1970’s who predicted that desktop computers would never sell, telling inventors that “it can’t be done” is like telling the Wright Brothers that “people can’t fly.”
The fact that Sewbo was created in Zornow’s tiny studio apartment shows that it is people, not technology, that creates new innovations. After all, technology is merely the tool that inventors use to create (Zornow is now at work with a robot apple picker, another human job that may bite the dust as well). Though the robot concept is still in prototype stage, Zornow concludes that he is “currently building a team and recruiting partners to bring this into full production.”