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Robot puts the stretch on hold-ups

11 January 2015

The innovative use and application of silicone material, for compression or grip, to textiles for fashion, medical, sportswear and every day garments has been made cost effective by the flexibility and control offered by industrial robots.

Robots are playing their part in making Stretchline Holdings world leaders in the development and manufacture of textile elastics. Working closely with Kawasaki Robotics UK, the company's Coating and Bonding Division, based in Long Eaton, has taken the programme from development through to manufacture and is now delivering robot systems for use in its facilities around the world.

The latest system to be completed uses a Kawasaki RS-10N robot and will be delivered to Stretchline's facility in Mexico. Stretchline Holdings technical director, Miles Cain has headed up the development programme, which has seen the application of silicone to products including hold-up stockings, socks, tights, bra bands and medical compression supports.

"There is a large market for self -supporting textile products and we originally started looking at reducing the significant cost on cost process to manufacture hold-up stockings," he says. "Conventionally there are several processes including making an elasticated band, dying it and sewing it to the stocking - this adds significant cost to a product.

"Our solution is to accurately apply silicone to a band knitted as an integral part of the stocking removing considerable 'on cost'. After considerable research and development time perfecting materials we found that if the flow of silicone was very carefully controlled with precise measure and fast curing it would become an integral part of the material."
Kawasaki provided a robot for initial proving trials, and the development and setting up of basic programme tasks. Miles Cain again:

"The robot is easily justified on this application to ensure the precise control when integrated with the silicone delivery head.  We proved very early on, before we took delivery of a robot, that if we held a rotating former under a precise delivery head for the silicone we could achieve our objective finish consistently.

"What the robot allows us to do is to accurately programme rotation speeds and positions for applying silicone on a garment which we place onto a former on the robot's wrist. This flexibility allows us to consider a wider variety of products including sportswear which uses the silicone process for bonding seems and hemming."

In addition to its development robot cell, Stretchline operates a compact automated cell using two Kawasaki FS-06N robots on its Long Eaton production line. Products are manually placed over robot mounted formers, which control the positioning and silicone application prior to a short curing cycle.

With operations in different parts of the world, Stretchline deemed it essential to have remote diagnostics capabilities. The new system being delivered to Mexico, for example, will be equipped with diagnostics plus an HMI, remotely accessible from Long Eaton, together with CCTV to view critical process areas. Stretchline managing director, Norman Collyer concludes:

"We are a growing business, with a current turnover of $125 million, and a major supplier to the world's leading garment suppliers. Having factories in the correct geographical locations is core to our business; operating now in Sri Lanka, Mexico, Indonesia, China, Honduras, USA, and the UK enables us to be close to our customers and reduces transportation costs. The flexibility and repeatability of the robot systems means that processes can be competitively replicated anywhere in the world and operated with minimal skill levels."

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