Automation: A stitch in time

Automation: A stitch in time

In most sectors of textile manufacturing, automation is one major key to quality improvement and cost competitiveness. Early modernisation and technical developments in textiles concentrated on the automation of individual machines and their processes.


The textile industry, which has been around for centuries, has made many strides thanks to the advent of automation. Textiles such as cloth, yarn, cotton, and other fabrics have been made easier to produce thanks to automation. Prior to the advent of machines and factories, most of the manufacturing took place in local homes. However, a series of innovations such as the flying shuttle, spinning jenny and finally the sewing-machine paved the road for mass-produced clothing. With the advent of fourth industrial revolution, automation continues to cause major disruptions in the textile industry. From fibre manufacturing to spinning, knitting, weaving, dyeing, and the final assembly, the adoption of automation has helped this sector tremendously in terms of productivity, efficiency and quality. Even the packaging is now done by machines.

Akshay Jaipuria, Partner at Vaya Home, says that the turning point in the textile industry came when SoftWear Automation launched LOWRY, a sewing robot or sewbot, which is capable of making as many as 1,142 t-shirts within just eight hours. Needless to say, the rise of automated sewing has attributed to the textile industry’s growth.

Today, various processes such as cotton picking and ginning, which were manual earlier, have been automated. Cotton fibre tests now can be carried out in seconds thanks to the high volume instrument (HVI) system. Automation has also been achieved in spinning with the development of machines like ring spinning, air-jet spinning, rotor spinning and Vortex spinning among others. Moreover, automation has made it possible to get an uninformed yarn quality using the yarn fault detection system. Other sectors in the textile industry including weaving, dyeing and garment have also evolved after the incorporation of shuttleless looms, robotic handling devices and ERP systems.

Says Jaipuria, “Automation has enabled the textile industry to increase the productivity by multiple times that too at a much lower cost. As we move towards the future, more advancements are expected to take place to reduce the power requirement of textile machinery, increasing their speed and efficiency. And it’s only a matter of time before the textile industry becomes fully automated.”

According to a spokesperson from the Textile Machinery Manufacturers’ Association (India),
“There is no such thing as a fully automated textile unit. The need for human intervention will always remain. It can be on a supervisory level. In the various stages of production of a textile, different types of machines can be used. This will help reduce contamination and increase productivity in textile plants.”

No doubt, fully automated textile manufacturing units have their own disadvantages. A loose bolt or a short circuit can cause major confusions. If the machinery adopted are not of a good quality, the initial investment done on them may prove futile. Complete automation may lead to the manufacture of boring prints and styles that can be easily found anywhere else. Besides, it will lead to loss of jobs in the country.

But it can be said that fully automated textile manufacturing units will do good to the country, overall. It will make the work of the employees inside the plant easy. Since the work completes quickly and systematically with the help of machines, there will be little room left for inaccuracies. Handicrafts and garments from semi automated textile manufacturing units prove to be costlier as compared to that from fully automated units.

In the current situation, Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan has created a perfect opportunity for most manufacturing Indian industries, and textile industry is no exception. This is the time when textile manufacturers have to look at leveraging available advanced technologies to rebuild the power of 3 A’s – access, awareness and availability. With promising initiatives and schemes, Indian government is creating a globally competitive manufacturing eco-system in textile sector. In order to fit into this changing environment, manufacturers need to upgrade their manufacturing facilities.

A few companies have already launched significant transformation in manufacturing processes, unleashing a whole new wave of industrial competition. This looks like a perfect time for Indian SMEs and MSMEs to invest in new technologies. To keep up with changing business environment every SMEs and MSMEs needs to be equipped with latest technology. In recent years, the functions involved in textile industry have changed significantly.

In light of increasing demand to implement “smart machines” solutions in textile sector, B&R Industrial Automation addresses how textile companies can best meet the challenges of the future by reducing the amount of resources required to gather and communicate critical information across an organisation and dynamically translate this data into actionable intelligence.

To cater to these needs, B&R equips machine builders and factory operator with advanced maintenance technology, scalable and rugged PC, panel systems and mapp technology. B&R provides automation platforms that can be perfectly tailored to the integration with different SCADA, MES and ERP systems. B&R not only provides products, but also supports with sustainable solutions including training, support and operations.

Together with its automation and digitisation solutions, B&R enables machine builders with cutting edge technology and enables them to stay ahead in competition. With mapp View, B&R offers direct access to the wide world of web technology right from engineering environment. mapp View relies 100 per cent on web standards to ensure content can be viewed optimally on any output device or even customised for specific users or user groups. With B&R’s mapp View HMI solution, users can give machines a state-of-the-art web-based user interface even without special web design training. Open architectures utilised by B&R in all its products make convergence of automation with IT look easy and satisfy user needs of a smart machine as well as factories implementation in a cost-effective method.

Said Jhankar Dutta, Managing Director, B&R Industrial Automation, India, “B&R has many years of experience in automating textile machines and factories. We offer advanced automation solutions for entire textile industry may it be production or process to achieve maximum performance. Our product range includes various automation and digitisation solutions for textile machines and factories. Our comprehensive control, motion, safety portfolio is a perfect fit for the textile industry.”

He added, “Automation Studio, a single tool for programming all B&R hardware, makes project management and version management easier than ever. It is the ultimate tool for machine building and system engineering. Through our sustainable and efficient approach to software development, we help machine builders to keep the quality up, engineering costs down and time-to-market short – even in the face of ever-increasing product complexity. mapp Technology is revolutionising the creation of software for industrial machinery and equipment. It helps machine builders to configure more and program less, thus, reducing machine development time by 67 per cent.”

“With POWERLINK, openSAFETY and OPC UA, we assist our customers to meet their connectivity demands, which is the need of Industry 4.0. For factory automation, B&R APROL enables systematic analysis of recorded operating and process data coupled with business intelligence, where users can gain valuable information for decision-making process with the help of standard reports, personalized interactive and ad hoc reports. Our APROL EnMon, ConMon & PDA, easily meet the increasing demands of energy savings, reducing environmental impact, reducing unplanned downtimes, predictive maintenance and data acquisition. As an expert textile partner, we offer intuitive diagnostic functions, remote diagnostics and open interfaces, which ensures reduced downtime and increased productivity,” said Dutta.

Cobots are collaborative robots, a new generation of robots that can act cooperatively with their human counterparts to revolutionise manufacturing.

Speaking on cobots, Pradeep David, General Manager – South Asia at Universal Robots A/S, said, “A ‘cobot’ (collaborative robot) is a robot intended to physically interact with humans in a shared workspace, where the repetitive and heavy tasks are taken care by cobots and supervision and quality checks are done by human beings. It is a robotic arm designed to assist human beings in a specific task, as a guide or assistor and as a portable tool. Various researchers have proved that the teams made of humans and robots collaborating efficiently can be around 85 per cent more productive than teams made of either humans or robots. Cobots can safely work alongside humans, without any danger of injury, they are easy to deploy (just plug and play), flexible to use and inexpensive hence they are triggering the demand in the manufacturing industry comprehensively around the globe.”

He added, “We, at Universal Robots, have the ‘first mover’ advantage and are the leading cobot manufacturers since the term was invented. More than 80 per cent of the UR cobots are in operation worldwide, working right next to humans with no safety guards to shield them. The safety system of our robots is approved and certified by TuV (The German Technical Inspection Association).”

On demand from the textile industry, David said, “We have experienced a huge demand in this sector especially in the Indian and Sri Lankan markets. Several Sri Lankan apparel companies have purchased cobots by Universal Robots to boost industrial productivity. We are also going to see vast deployments in India within a year. Cobots can be used in any segment of textile manufacturing where accuracy, precision and repetitive mass production is required. The key areas in textiles industry where UR cobots are being used are inspection, ‘pick and drop’, cutting and sewing. The world’s first robot, which has been used for sewing garments, is made by us. Many people are surprised to learn that a robot has been used to sew a piece of clothing.”

Added David, “Cobots are a part of Industry 4.0 and we firmly consider that the evolution of the manufacturing industry now leads it to the next industrial revolution – Industry 5.0, which enables man and machine to work hand-in-hand. The scenario where humans and robots are inter-dependent and accomplish what each of them does best, safely. We are in an age where the application of next-generation automation is doing more than we ever thought possible, impacting individuals and businesses in many instances without even being noticed.”

“We are in talks with various textile companies all across India and we believe that our robots are built for such precisions that we can actually draw out the map of France with the help of them. A fabric industry needs high level of accuracy; weather it’s the application of picking the fabric parts from an exact location (by avoiding folding and minimise wrinkling) or cutting of materials in an exact shape or scraping denims. Our flexible, cobots, which occupy a very little space in work area can work alongside workers safely as a third arm and can help them in producing superior products. Hence it’s with this precision approach, we are going into the market and we believe that UR cobots have the potential to change the dynamics of the sector,” added David.

In line with changing market dynamics, companies have come up with various automation solutions to garner growth. TUKA3D‘s accurate virtual fit sessions with animation allows the user to bypass physical sample making, dramatically reducing the time and cost associated with product development. Tukatech’s 3D apparel design software eliminates the need for trial and error in physical sample creation, ensuring that any design fits right the first time. Its virtual fit sessions with animation allows the user to bypass physical sample making, dramatically reducing the time and cost associated with product development, so crucial in a time conscious world. It can be used to animate the virtual fit model to visualise how a garment drapes in motion.

Similarly, Turkey-based group Robotech, which is known for bringing latest and highly technical automatic machines, offers many automatic solutions. The automatic pocket welting machine FF 6100-TR; XP 7100 – IX polo fly automat, which can increase the productivity by around the 20 per cent and JK 9300 – IX for automation in making waist bands. The sewing unit for piped pockets in FF 6100-TR allows an efficient and ?exible production of straight and optionally slanted welt pockets, ?ap pockets and inside pockets for the production of men’s and ladies jackets, coats, blazers, anoraks and trousers on a maximum quality level. Another machine XP 7100 – IX automatic placket setting workstation can fully automatise a series of sewing placket processes. The machines can be used with Brother Direct Drive sewing head; Beijer electronics windows Based 256 Million Colour supported touch screen control Panel. It comes with programmable start and end back tack or optionally adjustable stitch condensing.

MES (Manufacturing Execution System) is the flexible tool that enables managers to achieve operational excellence and rapidly respond to changing conditions. Through IoT integration, the drone notices that the system is able to do real-time production and quality monitoring, production management and production scheduling on all machines even including air jet texturising machines. The yarn monitoring sensors ensure a 100 per cent quality assurance without having to do the time-consuming and inaccurate laboratory tests.

The drone is stunned to see the superior yarn quality without the need of any quality sampling. One of the many things which impress our drone is the energy management at the unit. The IoT solution maps different energy consumption (such as electricity, gas, compressed air, water, steam, etc), for further analysis and optimisation. The integration with the MES systems provides a perfect insight into energy consumption and production and has helped the unit in 3 to 7 per cent energy savings through real-time energy consumption monitoring.

As identified by IDC, smart manufacturing (with digital factory, asset management, and integrated plant management), connected products (with IoT as a service, self-healing products, and product as a service) and connected supply chains (with fleet management, connected transportation and track and trace) are the various layers of use cases of IoT in textile manufacturing.

Coimbatore-based Lakshmi Machine Works’ (LMW) automated solutions include: Card LC636, Drawframe LDF3, Comber LK69 machines and SPINPACT – the Suction compact system. Features of LMW Comber LK69 machine include: Servo drives for drafting, which enables main draft adjustments through digital display, and a hank correction facility that helps achieve better CV%. The Comber machine on display was fitted with an inverter-controlled main motor that enables effortless change of machine speeds through the display facility itself.

LMW Drawframe LDF3 has two unique features: a separate drive for coiler, which helps in better coiling and self-adjustment of coiling speed to suit the filling type. Fan motors with inverter help achieve effective and optimum suction for different process. Even the aesthetically re-designed doors and covers of LDF3 drew wide appreciation from the visitors.

LMW’s Card LC636 with 1.5 m of working width for maximum utilisation, and SpinConnect integration received great appreciation at the event. The new age manufacturing yields top-in-line quality and improved precision for long lasting value.

Fibre manufacturing

A major direction for evolutionary change in extrusion technology is the continuing integration of extrusion with downstream processes. Today, it is possible to find commercial examples for spin-draw-wind, spin-draw-warp and spin-draw-textile processes. These technologies place a different emphasis on material handling requirements; robotic technologies for package doffing and transport are increasingly available and yet because of the linking of processes, need be placed only at critical points in the overall process.

The emphasis on flexible manufacturing, even in the fibre industry, has led to the development by some fibre producers of robotic techniques for the rapid change and replacement of spin packs and spinnerets. In these examples, robots are called upon to do what humans cannot do – change hot parts before they have cooled. Automated inspection of yarn packages for broken ends, poor package building, and improper tensions and misidentified packages is a goal being pursued by a number of fibre producers.

The history of the man-made fibre industry has emphasised process control more than any other segment of the textile operation. Increasing emphasis on product uniformity and adherence to quality standards continues to require fibre diameter monitoring, temperature and tension control, and monitoring of the solution properties of the polymer. These requirements are especially critical in micro-denier fibre extrusion, a process that produces fibres and eventually fabrics of truly different properties.

Yarn manufacturing

Computer Integrated Manufacturing Systems are available that monitor and/or control practically all yarn production processes from opening and blending to spinning, winding and twisting as shown in Figure 1. Applications include inventory control, order tracking, maintenance control, budgeting, mill management and many others. Most companies now offer advanced controls on opening, blending, carding and other fibre preparation equipment, which are compatible with CIM. Ring spinning machines with individual spindle drives are available and these offer great flexibility and will readily fit into the CIM concept. Sliver weights can be controlled and the levels changed by on-machine electronics that can readily be connected to a computer network.

Online quality control in carding and drawing can perform spectral analysis and determine the cause of problems based on the frequency analysis of the defects. Yarn spinning is now so automated that a large spinning mill can be operated by a very small number of people since automatic end piecing and automatic doffing is performed by robotic mechanisms.

One of the world’s most advanced examples of CIM applied to a spinning mill is Kondobo-Murata CIM mill at Horigane in Japan. The nucleus of Horigane plant is Murata’s Link Coner Spinning/winding link system, while their ‘Sky-Rev’ automated inter-process transportation system operates between the post-carding sliver and ribbon-lapping and combing and again takes over to provide the automated transport link between combing and drawing.

Fabric manufacturing

Weaving and knitting machine builders have been leading the way in utilising computer technology in textile manufacturing for many years with their use of CAD, bi-directional communication and artificial intelligence. With the availability of electronic dobby and jacquard heads, automatic pick finding, and needle selection, etc these machines are the most easily integrated into computer networks of any production machines. Bi-directional communication systems can be used to control many functions on a weaving machine. As Figure 2 shows a CAD system can be used to develop the fabric to be produced and the design can then be transmitted over the network to the production machines to produce the desired fabric. Now, the design instructions can even be sent by modem from one country to a weaving machine located anywhere else in the world. A weaving machine capable of receiving and responding to instructions in this way can therefore be operated in a developing country, while the designs it is weaving are originated and controlled, long-distance from a developed country. These technologies can greatly reduce the time needed to produce a fabric and give true meaning to the term ‘quick response’. Weaving also is the area where artificial intelligence is progressing the fastest with developments such as expert systems to assist in troubleshooting looms.

In the 1990s, due to remarkable progress in computer technology, the application in sizing machines has increased to a greater extent such as multi-point thermo sensors for energy saving, automatic control of squeezing pressure, size pick-up detectors, multi-functional counters, etc. Sizing machine control systems provide a tool for management to insure that all warps are sized identically under standard operating conditions. These monitoring and control capabilities can be included in a computer network of a weaving mill as shown in Figure 3.

For years knitting machine manufacturers have been making excellent use of electronics to provide machines that are more automatic and versatile and many refinements of these advances have been made. These automatic machines are already ‘islands of automation’ that can be incorporated into a CIM network.

Automated weaving plants are on the drawing boards. None is yet in operation but should be a reality within a few years. The six production steps winding, warping, sizing, weaving inspection and packing include 16 points of automation. Of these, 12 deal with materials handling or transport. Only four applications deal with automating the machine operations themselves. This includes automated process control on the slasher and the weaving functions of (1) Automatic Pick Repair (2) Automated Warp breakage Locator and (3) Computerised Machine Control. Manual assistance is still required for beam replacement and repair of warp breaks.

Textile dyeing

The automatic control of dyeing machines dates well back into the 1960s, and each succeeding year has shown miniaturisation and enhancement in the management of information on a timelier basis. The automation started with the introduction of a system that controlled a set temperature by switching heaters on or off. A short time later these were replaced by systems that controlled the dyeing cycle according to a time/temperature sequence. The processes of dye and auxiliary chemical addition as well as loading and unloading of textile materials were also automated to result in automated dye-house management. A monitor displays scheduling for any machine and allows the operator to arrange the next lot. Batch weighing updates inventory each minute and give inventory of each dye by bulk and container. Any errors later in the process can be traced to a particular container if it should become necessary.

Now, the jiggers have been fully computerised with total control over process. In the pad-batch dyeing system, the most outstanding development is special dye dispensing system, online colour monitoring and dye pickup control.

The knowledge-based methods are becoming increasingly significant in the field of dyeing process automation. Essentially Neural Network and Fuzzy Logic are frequently being used. The Glen Raven’s new automated dye-house near Burlington, NC is among the most robotised plants in US textile industry. In the plant automated system directs the entire manufacturing process from dyeing to loading and unloading yarns. It knows what colour and how much dye to add, when to mix it and when and where to route the yarn for the next step in the dye process. The system creates a highly effective and extremely efficient facility. Also, in India, a state-of-the-art indigo dyeing plant can be remotely operated and diagnosed for any maintenance across the globe.

Online quality control

An important factor in the success of automated textile mill is online quality measuring, monitoring and controlling. More and more instrument companies have devices to perform these tasks while they were applied externally when introduced several years ago, today they are being incorporated internally.

The importance of online monitoring and quality control cannot be over emphasised. With the high rates of production now achievable, any off standard condition can produce large quantities of second grade material. This can represent non-recoverable value added production costs as well as the loss of full priced, first grade products. Should the off-standard material remain in the production line, further deterioration in product quality such as, foreign-matter, broken filaments, slubs or unevenness can be expected in downstream processing. Additionally, machine stoppages can occur. It is essential to incorporate online quality detectors that can measure quality on a continuing basis, adjust machine settings within prescribed tolerances to maintain nominal quality parameters, or stop production if automatic corrections cannot be made.

Recent advances in imaging technology have resulted in inexpensive, high quality image acquisition and advances in computer technology allow image processing to be performed quickly and cheaply. This has given rise not only to a number of developments for laboratory quality testing equipments for fibres, yarns and fabrics but also to developments of online equipments for continuous monitoring of quality in textiles such as Fibre Contamination Eliminator, Intelligent Yarn Grader and Automatic Fabric Inspection.