The era of the digital textile supply chain came a step nearer yesterday after Hong Kong-based Li & Fung announced that it had signed a strategic cooperation agreement with US firm Softwear Automation, which has developed the Sewbot autonomous sewing workline.

The agreement will initially cover the manufacture of t-shirts, although it could be extended to other products – Softwear Automation has developed a Sewbot solution for the production of pillows, footwear, car mats, bath mats and towels.

The Sewbot system, shown in the video below, allows just one employee to man an entire production line and can produce a t-shirt in just 22 seconds.

The recent Transport Intelligence report Global E-commerce Logistics 2018 cited the development of sewbots as one the true “game changers” for the fashion industry.

“The bots can cut and sew a new shirt every 22 seconds from very soft and flexible fabric. This was something that was impossible to conceive of a few years ago. The designs can also be changed very swiftly according to market demand,” the report said.

Spencer Fung, group chief executive at Li & Fung, said the agreement was a key plank in the company’s three-year plan, which seeks to accelerate the process of supply chain digitisation in the apparel and footwear industries.

“We have already made substantial progress in our digital journey to create the Supply Chain of the Future and this partnership with Softwear Automation is another building block in our end-to-end digital supply chain,” he said.

“Through this collaboration we want to partner with an initial set of manufacturers to create our first fully digital apparel supply chain and use those learnings to scale the technology and create customised solutions for our supplier network around the world.

“The benefits will not only reach our suppliers but all our stakeholders along the supply chain,” he added.

Palaniswamy “Raj” Rajan, chairman and chief executive at Softwear Automation, added: “We have a shared vision with Li & Fung that the analog will become digital.

“Consumers’ demand to get things faster, quicker and more unique than ever before is only increasing. Together with Li & Fung, our revolutionary Sewbots will enable the speed needed for on-demand, made-to-measure manufacturing, at scale.”

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