Engagement with Automation and Robotics for the UK’s Fashion & Textile Manufacturing Sector

As the UK’s leading provider of courses and apprenticeships within the fashion and textile manufacturing sector it is imperative that the Fashion Technology Academy (FTA) remains at the forefront of industry development and technological advancements. On 15th May, Fashion-Enter Ltd Director, Claire Solley was invited to attend a day-long workshop titled: ‘Engagement with Automation and Robotics, an avenue to enhance existing UK Apparel and Textile Manufacturing Capacity’.

Held in Coventry in collaboration with UKFT, Manufacturing Technology Centre and Positive Fashion: Circular Fashion Innovation Network, the event introduced a range of innovative technologies with the aim to enhance existing UK manufacturing capabilities. 

The fashion manufacturing sector in the UK urgently needs to modernise, optimising production and supply chains to meet net-zero and global sustainability challenges. As part of the sustainable manufacturing pillar, UKFT is looking to explore avenues to ‘Enhancing existing UK manufacturing capacity’. 

The UKFT with the Robotics Living Lab (RoLL) Manchester Metropolitan University at the Manufacturing Technology Centre, is looking to bring together key stakeholders from the fashion and textiles supply-chain to explore automation and robotics as an avenue to create a zero-carbon industry focusing on high value, low volume manufacturing.

The day-long agenda was made up of a series of workshops along with a conference and exhibition…

Workshop 1:

Arantza Vilas is a textile artist, designer and researcher with an interdisciplinary and experimental studio practice looking at how this could support robotics with soft grips.

Workshop 2:

Robotics Living Lab (RoLL) took a close look at tools that could be added to robot arms. Benefits of ceramic tools v’s traditional metal. The workshop included discussions over robots not being as accurate as people which could be an issue for garment manufacturing. Robots are already being used for picking and packing if warehouses with boxes, how could this be used to move items down the line and help with packing of garments. How robotics could be a great way to get the younger generation into garment manufacturing.

Workshop 3:

Discussion with government on how to re-shore production to the UK and what obstacles, fabrics/skills are present. Discussion over how to increase the skills market in this sector with apprenticeships etc.

Workshop 4:

The Robotics living lab cutting arm live demonstration. Robotic arm on a gantry with cutting arm that can move up and down the table. (Does not take up much more space than a standard cutting table).

Claire commented: “I’ve worked in the industry now for well over a decade and this Automation and Robotics event on 15th May arranged by UKFT, Manufacturing Technology Centre and Positive Fashion: Circular Fashion Innovation Network, made me realise that the entire garment manufacturing industry is set for dramatic change. 

“Working at FEL means that we are always at the forefront of change and we all need to embrace new developments that make our industry more robust and efficient. 

“Before I attended this event I couldn’t understand how SewBots could possibly work with fine silk fabrics and undertake the finite skills needed for garment manufacturing. However, what I did see was how CoBots rather than Robots can play an integral part going forward.

“I think realistically we’re a good few years away from creating the hardware and software for SewBots but I’m more confident that this can be achieved and the Robotic cutting arm can already offer precision and support. 

“I certainly know that FEL would like to be the first in the country to trial SewBots and introduce new methods that can blend traditional skills with new technology. Investment and implementation at the stage will support the UK manufacturing industry on many levels from efficiency and sustainability.”

Many thanks to UKFT, Manufacturing Technology Centre and Positive Fashion: Circular Fashion Innovation Network for providing this informative and inspiring day.

To find out more visit the Manufacturing Technology Centre: https://www.the-mtc.org/what-we-do/technical-solutions/