Robots are playing their part in making Stretchline Holdings world leaders in the development and manufacture of textile elastics. The innovative use and application of silicone material, for compression or grip, to textiles for fashion, medical, sports wear and every day garments has been made cost effective by the flexibility and control offered by industrial robots.
Working closely with Kawasaki Robotics UK, Stretchline Holdings 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.
Miles Cain, Technical Director, Stretchline Holdings, 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. He says: "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.
"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 worked closely with Stretchline, providing a robot for initial proving trials and development and setting up basic programme tasks. Miles continues: "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 accurately control the positioning and silicone application prior to a short curing cycle.
Stretchline's global operations are based on reducing costs for its overseas customers by setting up near to needlepoint, i.e. close to the point of garment manufacture. This makes working with a global business such as Kawasaki a key issue for support and in addition the ability for systems to have remote diagnostics. The new system being delivered to Mexico will be equipped with diagnostics and an HMI remotely accessible from Long Eaton together with CCTV to view critical process areas.
Investing strongly in its brands, Stretchline is working closely with the universities of Leeds, Loughborough and Nottingham continually researching innovative techniques with materials and manufacturing techniques.
Stretchline Managing Director, Norman Collyer explains: "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."
To learn more about industrial robots from Kawasaki, please go to www.kawasakirobot.co.uk.