Micro factories for sustainable and local textile production

Article · 2021-01-29

In collaboration with Science Park Borås, Automation Region is investigating new ways to automate small-scale textile production. The collaboration creates opportunities for automation companies to find new business opportunities within the textile industry, where there is great development potential for automated manufacturing processes.

Linda Göthberg, CEO of Textilfabriken, is one of the participants in the project. Photographer Vasilios Bartziokas.

– If we are to achieve one hundred percent transparency in environmental impact and at the same time create profitable circular systems in the textile industry, we need to use technology in a smarter way, says Erik Valvring, project manager for Mikrofabriker at Borås Science Park. In textile automation, there is a lot to explore and a great need for innovation.

Opportunities to create sustainable and profitable textile production in Sweden by automating parts of the textile production flow are investigated within the project. Today, a significant part of the textile industry is already automated, but the technology used needs to be developed to enable profitable domestic value chains.

– The technology has long been adapted for larger flows and production has largely been located in low-cost countries, says Erik Valvring. Through automated micro factories, it can become cheaper and more sustainable to produce textiles in high-cost countries, and in this way part of the production could be brought back to Sweden. This creates opportunities for Swedish automation companies to enter the market.

Sustainability – an important driving force

Production in low-cost countries usually requires a lot of labor and a lot of energy. At the same time, new sustainability requirements are placed on the industry, which means that the focus is on new technology. Automated manufacturing processes can have major environmental benefits.

– If we start producing more locally, we can create an increased transparency and understanding of the environmental impact in all stages of textile production, says Erik Valvring. It is difficult when production is located to other countries.

A knitting machine is an example of a technical solution where there is potential to further automate the process.

– Today you can put yarn in one end of the machine and get a knitted sweater out of the other, but there are more steps in the process that could be automated, says Erik Valvring. The yarn must be put in, the sweater must be picked out and it must be packed. These are processes that are performed by humans today. If we can automate such flows, the opportunity rises to produce more sustainably and on a smaller scale.

Another scenario could be to automate the recycling of used clothes, says Erik Valvring.

– If we can use automation to find a way to cut fabric or otherwise make the garments salable again, we could bring home economic and environmental benefits. Here, Automation Region and the automation companies add expertise and perspectives on production that we have previously lacked.

Cross-industry collaboration

The Mikrofabriker project connects companies from the textile industry with automation companies, and together they develop manufacturing processes and business models that can promote a sustainable circular economy and lead to new business opportunities. Among others, companies such as ABB, Textilfabriken, Guringo Designstudio, Gina Tricot, XV Production, PapeTale, Atacac Fashion Studio, IRO and E.Samuelsson are participating in the project.

Although the project is underway, there is opportunity for more companies to join.

– Automation companies that want to explore the textile industry, find new collaborations or contribute with ideas and expertise are welcome to join the project, says Elin Asplund, project manager at Automation Region. In Sweden, we have very little textile production left and it would be very positive if, with the help of automation and micro-factory concepts, we can create a more sustainable production that, in the future, can also be located here.

The project extends to 2023 and is funded by Vinnova, the Swedish innovation agency, Borås Region, the University of Borås and ACG Nyström.

Feel free to contact Elin Asplund - elin.asplund@automationregion.com - if you want to know more.