The Future of Sewing is Now
While Siri is one of the world’s best known artificial intelligence (AI) personalities, she is not into sewing. And while she probably never will be, things are changing fast for her contemporaries in the sewing industry as DAP America makes waves in the world of AI sewing technology. The company’s President, Mariano Amezcua and its Chief Financial Officer, Nina McCormack told us more about this innovative company’s latest contributions to the world of sewing technology.
Before now, finding AI technology with truly human capacities in the sewing industry has been about as unlikely as finding a needle in a haystack. But, this is about to change as DAP America, formerly known as Dürkopp Adler America Inc., sets out to entirely reinvent the landscape of industrial sewing. Norcross, Georgia is the American home of Dürkopp Adler, Pfaff Industrial, KSL, Mauser Spezial, SGGEMSY, and Richpeace, all modern industrial sewing equipment brands trusted by the biggest international clients.
The seams created by these machines hold much of our world together from car and airplane seats to handbags, clothes, shoes, linens, and technical textiles. The list of everyday items that are held together or reinforced with stitching is nearly infinite. DAP America is the favoured supplier of sewing machines, automated sewing stations, software, robotics, and sewing technology to global brands such as Louis Vuitton and many others.
The company’s main focus is on assisting its customers in improving productivity and quality for a lower long-term cost, allowing them to be more profitable and competitive. As trends increasingly move towards employing AI in the sewing industry, mimicking human abilities has become one of its greatest challenges.
Considering the high level of instinctive touch that goes into processes like guiding speed, it seems an impossible feat. Something like sewing two fabrics of different weights and textures together appears simple when done by human hands but becomes an unbelievably complex process when designing artificial intelligence to copy. Creating algorithms to automate these mental and physical human processes is one of the company’s specialties. To achieve this, it invests heavily in top-notch international research and development.
Part of this strategy is its KSL division, which prides itself on constant evolution, garnering this department the affectionate nickname of ‘the inventors.’ This team focuses on creating algorithms that drive robots to behave like human hands, complete with the delicate tactile function and flexibility of a human sewing artisan.
This, of course, is not easy, and the challenges are many. Pattern matching and dealing with varying sizes of design elements and garments are all part of the requirements. “This is [perhaps] why sewing is the last frontier to be automated,” says Mariano.
Some of the company’s most amazing challenges have included sewing everything from large, sacred tapestries to fish heads.
The former project was completed for the Kaaba, also known as the al-Kaʿbah al-Musharrafah, the famous, black, cube-shaped building that is visited by Muslims on Hajj, the sacred pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The walls of the building are covered in black fabric tapestries known as Kiswah that are decorated with verses from the Islamic holy book, the Qur’an, embroidered in gold thread.
The most recent pieces of embroidery were sewn onto the long fabric strips with KSL’s sewing unit. The site is considered to be the holiest within Islam, and so the project was performed while adhering to very religious strict rules. Whereas it previously took over twenty-nine artisans to produce two covers annually, it is now possible for fewer than four artisans to create as many as six in the same period.
However, later in the year, things got really interesting for KSL when a Swedish fishing concern approached it to assist in sewing together 13,500 fish heads. These remain after the fillets have been removed and prepared for market and are traditionally sewn by hand. Mariners wanted a faster, more effective way of collecting the leftovers for preservation.
After receiving over eighteen kilograms of slightly overdue fish heads, the KSL department set to work finding a way of threading the rather pungent experiment together. With the windows as far open as possible, the team devised a way in which fishers can string the heads together. The solution proved to be using a specialized needle and high-strength thread which are popped through each head’s cheekbone area.
It is not just its KSL division that invents new solutions, however. Dürkopp Adler is also contributing its fair share of innovation. As an enabler of the sewing industry’s transition from mechanically-based to software-based function, DAP America takes great care to deliver a sleek user experience.
Its latest achievement in the field is its M-TYPE Delta sewing machine which won the illustrious Texprocess Innovation Award at an international event in Frankfurt, Germany in May this year. With a host of mechanical improvements, the machine also offers a human-machine interface (HMI) technology that is presented in the form of a tablet to allow for user-friendly control and demand.
“Just like [mobile companies] don’t have the monopoly on applications, I can see us opening up our interface across the garment manufacturing ecosphere, so that it can communicate with other equipment,” says Mariano.
Amongst its many great features, Delta software allows the user to scan a barcode that indicates its next process. This, in turn, automatically updates all the other machines in the network, removing variability from the system.
Sewing professionals often like to change sewing settings to their preferences which, over time, scrambles machines’ calibration. The knock-on effects are problems such as garments that need reworking, loss of materials, and machines that have to be recalibrated. These are all issues that negatively impact on productivity.
Taking the machine set-up out of people’s hands by standardizing parameters means increased functionality, productivity, and considerable savings in configuration time. “Some customers tell me their configuration set-up time can be up to fifty percent. If you’re working an eight-hour shift, that means that four hours of the day could be unproductive in the [manufacturing] sense,” Amezcua says.
According to Mariano, the days of huge generic runs are fast becoming a thing of the past as the company is seeing an increased demand for technology that supports highly-customized niche sewing functions that include detailed customization for limited runs.
One example of this is the customizations seen on blue jeans with back pockets and seams branded with signature stitching. Traditionally, the infrastructure needed to create such customizations made the process decidedly expensive. In contrast, digitalizing these functions means reducing costs and production time. And, with delivery windows becoming shorter, this is advantageous for sewing manufacturing companies that work for globally competitive brands in fashion, the automotive industry, and other fields.
The new Delta technology integrates seamlessly with the company’s existing technology so machines can network and capture real-time data. This allows managers to deal with more important aspects of the manufacturing process. It also means that downtime is minimized and that there is no guesswork to be done when it comes to troubleshooting and maintenance.
Machines are now automated to warn maintenance personnel in good time when new needles and other replacements are needed and when tasks have been completed. The industry 4.0 software solution can also successfully identify and communicate pending issues on machines allowing for seamless correction that prevents breakdowns and bottlenecks, keeping the overall flow of operations running smoothly.
“To allow our clients to complete these low-volume production runs in a cost-and-time-effective manner, our target is [to allow customers ] to change over [functions] in as little time as possible, much like a pit stop in a Formula 1 race,” says Mariano. The manufacturer that becomes the best competitor in production automatically stands to be the best in the market.
In addition to nimble manufacturing, DAP America places a huge emphasis on sustainability, treating it as a priority rather than just another trend. “This is why all our new developments like the Delta platform are developed with our customers in mind,” says Nina.
While all the company’s product development is conducted at its headquarters in Germany, its American team works with clients to discover new ways in which the development department can implement technology that makes life easier for everyone who uses the products. Its German office also creates support media for all its platforms like instruction videos, social media, and other information and training materials.
Thanks to modern technology, technicians do not have to travel for training anymore. Instead, DAP America now provides its clients with online learning tools, allowing technicians to learn how to perform maintenance, other tasks, and simple troubleshooting. These skills can be learned in less than five minutes in the comfort of their own offices or even at home.
A full-time YouTuber on the company’s German service staff produces content videos for technicians, while instruction manuals are loaded onto its new Delta interface, allowing users to troubleshoot and learn through either watching videos or reading. All these online tools are provided to add value to the client experience by increasing productivity, efficiency, and ultimately, profit.
And the claims are real. One of its biggest clients, Louis Vuitton, recently cut the ribbon of its third manufacturing facility in the French town of Beaulieu-Sur-Layon in response to a growing international demand for its luxury goods. Vogue UK recently reported that this will reduce handbag manufacturing time to one week. The secret to its increased production appears in the inauguration video: Dürkopp Adler machines.
DAP America provides the key to stitching that holds much more than luxury trunks together. Considering how many people depend on quality seams, the company is one of the industry’s safest bets when it comes to quality sewing and the technology that drives it.