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Business trends

Can 'gripper' robots shift garment making from Asia to the West?

New tech could make production less labor intensive but energy costs may be issue

Germany-based Robotextile is one of several companies attempting to bring more automation to garment marking, an industry that still relies heavily on human labor. (Photo courtesy of Robotextile)

HAMBURG, Germany -- Clothing companies in Europe and the U.S. are hopeful they can finally automate one of the most costly and time-consuming steps in the garment-making process: moving fabric from one part of the factory to another.

Laser-guided cutting machines and computer-controlled sewing machines have been staples of the industry for years, but transferring fabric between such machines is still largely done by the human hand, as robots struggle to handle soft fabrics precisely.

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