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The textile industry’s game changer – innovative robot hand awarded

The textile industry’s game changer – innovative robot hand awarded

Imagine you throw your t-shirt on the floor, it lands and becomes a shapeless pile of fabric. You pick it up to put it on the bed instead, now it is still a small pile, but it doesn’t look at all like the first pile. You, who have both sight and touch, know how to grip to lift the t-shirt. For a robot, it’s impossible – until now!

Meet the student Charles Auguste who, through the project Microfactories in the DO-tank Center, has developed a robotic hand that can handle textiles. A thesis and an invention that earns him the Automation Student 2023 award.

Charles Auguste.

The fashion and textile industry is one of the world’s dirtiest industries and accounts for around ten percent of global emissions. In addition, the production is unsustainable both when it comes to people and the environment. Science Park Borås runs several different projects aimed at improvement in these areas. An example is the project Micro factories that investigate how automation can contribute to sustainability in the textile industry. It is within the framework of that project that Charles has done his degree project. A degree project that has now been named the best of the year in the field of automation in the Automation Student competition.

“The Microfactories project has investigated how small, local factories can be designed to be able to move production closer to the consumer,” said Charles. To succeed in this on all levels – finance, sustainability and work environment – ​​automation is required. However, it is next to impossible for a robot to handle textiles, and that’s where I came into the picture. I would make the impossible possible.”

Handles fabrics as well as a human

Charles has studied in the Master’s program in innovation and design at Mälardalen University and he completed the education in the spring of 2023. During the program, they have worked a lot on testing, failing, improving and testing again. In his degree project, Charles produced a number of concept proposals and based on those that seemed most promising, he developed and tested prototypes. The inspiration came from other industries, new technologies and nature.

The goal was to produce a robotic hand – a gripper – that could handle fabric at least as well as a human. After a lot of experimenting, he came to the conclusion that a gripper designed with needles that grip the fabric worked best, that way the fabric could be picked up, and also stretched out

“The most surprising and fun thing about the project was that I was able to disprove previous research that claimed that it is impossible for a robot to handle fabric without tearing it,” said Charles. Obviously, it works, with a little persistence.

Charles says that he had no experience in the textile and clothing industry before the project and did not really understand the complexities. He hadn’t really understood how the properties of different fabrics could be so widely different, it was just fabric!

“I needed to learn a lot about the material and challenge my way of thinking,” said Charles. In retrospect, it gave an extra dimension to the work and it was perhaps what contributed the most to my success with the assignment.

“Can revolutionize the entire clothing industry”

The grip that Charles has developed is a prototype that needs further development before it can be used in industry. But the work is a brilliant example that shows the possibilities of automating clothing manufacturing – both for the benefit of people and the environment. The hope is that the gripper will become a product that can be connected to other parts, such as an automatic sewing machine that can sew simpler seams.

“Automation in clothing production can revolutionize the entire textile industry,” said Charles. Production can be moved closer to the consumer but also improve the working environment in existing production environments. We can reduce our climate footprint and the technology gives us better control and traceability of the clothes that are manufactured.

After graduation, Charles moved back to his hometown of Lyon in France. He got a job at a company that works with product development and it fits him like a glove. Alongside the work, he continues to work with the gripper in order to be able to eventually develop a finished product.

Text: Automation Region
Video: Science Park Borås

About the Automation Student competition

To emphasize the importance of a stable regrowth in the field of automation, the Automation Region, the Swedish Fair and the industry organization Swedish Automation organize an annual competition for the best automation-related thesis. The award has been awarded since 2010 and the winning entry is rewarded with a scholarship of SEK 20,000.