A collaborative led by researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology was awarded a Walmart U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund from Walmart, the Walmart Foundation and the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM). The announcement came at the 2014 U.S. Manufacturing Summit in Denver, where a total of seven leading research and development institutions were awarded $4 million in grants to create new processes, ideas and jobs that will foster America’s growing manufacturing footprint.
Professor Sundaresan Jayaraman, who holds joint appointments in Scheller College of Business and the School of Materials Science and Engineering, is leading Georgia Tech's collaborative, which received $2 million in funding to further develop the project “CRAFTed With Pride in the USA.”
Researchers from Georgia Tech’s CRAFT (Center for Research in Apparel Fabrication Technologies) are collaborating on an automated manufacturing process to create apparel, from blue jeans to T-shirts, without a person sewing. The innovative technology plan is to use robotics, high-speed machine vision systems and materials-handling machines to create garments of a higher quality and at a lower cost than what is currently realized through offshore manufacturing.
This innovative process automates the refined skills of a person who sews – visual quality control, handling of material and sewing. The technology in the team’s proposal exists now as a laboratory prototype that can automatically complete a basic set of sewing functions with a high degree of accuracy. Ultimately, bringing this kind of technology out of the lab and into the real world will give the American apparel industry a much-needed boost.
"The Walmart Foundation’s U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund grant gives us the unique opportunity to transform the labor-intensive apparel manufacturing process into a cost-effective, automated and high-tech operation,” says principal investigator Jayaraman, a professor of polymer, textile and fiber engineering who also is a member of Scheller's IT Management faculty area.
“In doing so, we will fundamentally alter the landscape of today’s apparel industry by neutralizing the cost advantage of low-wage countries and triggering a ‘lost’ industry’s return to America. Bringing this research to life and commercializing it will open new high-tech jobs to manufacture the robots and other equipment needed to make the system work.”
Along with Jayaraman, the Georgia Tech collaborative includes researchers Steve Dickerson, CTO and co-founder of SoftWear Automation Inc., developer of technologies for apparel automation and a member of Georgia Tech's Advanced Technology and Development Center (ATDC), and professor-emeritus of Georgia Tech’s George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering; and Wayne Book, emeritus HUSCO/Ramirez Professor of Fluid Power and Motion Control, also a part of Georgia Tech’s mechanical engineering school.
“This year’s grant recipients represent the ingenuity and inventive thinking that could ultimately unlock the full potential of manufacturing in the U.S.,” said Cindi Marsiglio, Walmart vice president of U.S. sourcing and manufacturing. “We’re thrilled the Walmart Foundation is supporting the efforts of Georgia Tech’s collaborative to transform the processes that will ultimately drive resurgence in American manufacturing.”
The Fund, which focuses on the development of domestic manufacturing with a specific goal of advancing the production or assembly of consumer products in the U.S., will provide a total of $10 million in grants over the next five years. This year’s grant recipients were selected for their ability to address two key areas that currently present barriers to increased domestic manufacturing:
• Reducing the cost of textiles manufacturing – including home textiles and apparel – in the U.S. by addressing obstacles throughout production.
• Improving common manufacturing processes with broad application to many types of consumer products.
“The City of Atlanta is proud and honored to be a beneficiary of the Walmart Foundation Innovation Fund," said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. "The metropolitan Atlanta region has embraced the resurgence of American manufacturing, experiencing an 8 percent increase in manufacturing jobs in the past year alone. I believe this generous Innovation Fund grant will help enable Georgia Tech to make cutting-edge advancements that will not only make an economic impact in Atlanta, but also in cities across the United States.”
The Innovation Fund is another milestone in Walmart’s broader commitment to help revitalize U.S.-based manufacturing.
“Researchers at many of America’s best universities are hard at work on tough manufacturing challenges,” said Kathleen McLaughlin, president of the Walmart Foundation. “We are excited to support the development of innovative solutions, which we hope will unlock new opportunity for manufacturing in this country.”