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New innovative textile cutting machine

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CRYSTAL (New innovative textile cutting machine)

Reporting period: 2016-11-01 to 2017-02-28

The “low volume – high price” segment of the clothing sector produces high-end luxury fashion targeted towards wealthy consumers. It includes retail production of luxury brands (e.g. Armani, Hugo Boss), prototyping of clothing development at big brands (e.g. Zara, H&M) and high end exclusive automotive interior trim (e.g. Ferrari, Bentley).

These all have a distinctive need: the quality of the cut, sewed fabrics and the flexibility for introducing changes and personalisation. They currently rely on highly skilled artisans, who cut the material by hand to produce top quality material pieces. A growing problem that is being faced by players in this sector is the shortage of these highly skilled workers, in the face of continued growth of the sector. According to a European Commission report, “…[there is] difficulty to bring promising youths and talents to the T&C sector, because the image of the industry is not very attractive…market fragmentation tends to lower the grade of quality of clothing and textile in the EU and its chances of further successful developments.”

It’s estimated that for each vacancy that a business fails to fill, it results in an opportunity cost of about €100K per year. This has led to the requirement to mechanise the low-volume cutting process. Cutting machines that are currently available on the market, which cut stacked layers of material by holding them in place using vacuum systems and an oscillating blade, have a set of drawbacks:
• The vacuum system requires high energy usage and additional consumables (plastic, paper and felt/rubber) to create the envelope which traps the suctioned air
• The precision and accuracy of the cut when using the competitors cutting machines is of a poorer quality than the high quality cut obtained when the fabric is cut by hand.
• With several layers being stacked and cut at the same time under the vacuum system, the pressure over the descending layers deforms them, decreasing their dimensional stability and so the precision of the cut.

The overall objective of this project is to develop an advanced textile cutting technology, which enables automated low volume cutting of fabrics with the quality of the cut similar to that of an experienced artisan.
Work on the CRYSTAL project began in 2012, motivated by the interactions we had with our customers who explained how they are struggling to fill vacancies for highly skilled fabric cutting artisans. They indicated that they need to mechanise their cutting operations, but they found existing solutions lacked the required accuracy and precision. To date, over €700k has been invested in the design and development of the machine, including the production of 4 prototypes in 2016. The key milestones achieved have been the development of the glass bed, roller blade, electro-static fabric holding system and ultrasound marking for these prototypes.

The prototypes have been tested since October 2015 by a customer in Portugal (Baptista e Soares) and a distributor in Turkey (Özbilim). The machines are being used during normal production of branded garments, and we have received very positive feedback.

Based on the comprehensive market we conducted we determined the market needs, together with the most promising markets that we can target for initial entry. The market study results were used as a basis to make 5 year financial projections of the of the CRYSTAL project post commercialisation. We also explored the intellectual property landscape and established that we have our freedom to operate. From these results we concluded that the CRSYTAL project is technically and commercially viable and we combined them to draft a comprehensive business plan for the commercialisation of CRYSTAL. This will be used by Bierrebi management to guide continuation of the project and get the product to the market.
CRYSTAL is the first automated cutting machine producing a single-layer fabric cut edge quality similar to that created by a skilled artisan cutting by hand, combined with the production speed of industrial equipment. The solution will provide manufacturers in the low volume – high price segment with an effective mechanisation solution to overcome their current problem of struggling to recruit highly skilled cutting artisans.
This will save these businesses about €100K in lost production for each vacancy they fail to fill. Due to its 63% lower running and maintenance costs, it will improve the competitiveness of our customers within the clothing sector allowing. Additionally, the significant reduction of electricity consumption by 87% results in a lower carbon footprint, and hence less negative impact on the environment compared to competing solution.