OpScoop Issue 10: Amazon –Heading the way towards On-Demand Clothes Manufacturing

E-Commerce giant Amazon, the Seattle-based company was recently granted a patent that enables custom production of clothing after a customer has placed an order. Standard operating procedure in the apparel industry goes like this: Make clothes, and then sell them. It can take weeks, if not months, to manufacture clothes, so that step has to come first. It can be a costly upfront investment, and items that don’t sell get discounted, eating into margins.

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But Amazon, the e-commerce giant steadily growing into the largest apparel seller in the US, has another idea. The company has been granted a patent for an on-demand apparel-manufacturing system that would let it make clothes only once orders have been placed. A “computing device” would collect orders and organize them according to how they could be most efficiently produced. They could be grouped by geographic location, for instance, or by the type of fabric required, or by the assembly processes involved. As Amazon explains it in the patent, “By aggregating orders from various geographic locations and coordinating apparel assembly processes on a large scale, the networked environment provides new ways to increase efficiency in apparel manufacturing.” Based on the orders, an automated system at an Amazon facility would produce the clothes. A textile printer would create the various fabrics needed. The fabrics would then be automatically fed over to a textile cutter, which would cut out pattern pieces from the sheets of fabric to be assembled into the finished garments.

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Cameras would monitor the process, and an “image analyzer” could spot if anything went wrong, such as the textiles bunching, stretching, or being cut incorrectly. The system would adjust itself to correct the issue, signal an attendant for assistance, or flag the panel as a misprint to be discarded. Eventually the finished products would be checked for quality, packed, and shipped. By combining the manufacturing speed of fast fashion brands (which take their cues from catwalks and popular designs) with its computing power, the Seattle-based company can further boost its appeal.

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