With the increasing demand for mass production, the cutting room in an apparel manufacturing facility has been constantly automated by several inventions of new machinery. A spreading machine carried a roll of fabric over the table and drastically reduced the human workforce. Introduced in the early 1900s, die-cutters increased cutting efficiency and quality dramatically. With the appearance of the numerically controlled (NC) machine in the 1940s and 1950s, continuous cutting became possible. This led to greater flexibility in production as well as more economical use of material. Later, digital technology created computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines and other supporting tools such as CAD/CAM programs. This steady and persistent effort made the cutting room evolved into the most advanced department in the apparel manufacturing industry.
Most systems in automated cutting have a similar configuration, where a cutting device is housed in a carriage that is attached to a crossbar over the cutting table. The carriage moves along the crossbar across the width of the cutting table, while the crossbar moves along the length of the table. These movements let the cutting device travel over the cutting area and are managed precisely by a control unit. In modern cutting devices, cutting tables are equipped with vacuum systems to hold the material down and enhance cutting accuracy during the cutting process. Porous materials, such as most textiles, have to be cut with an impermeable plastic cover.
Various cutting technologies are available for a cutting device, such as computer-controlled knife, laser, water jet, plasma, or ultrasound. Knife cutters are suitable for multi-ply cutting of heavy textile materials and have been most widely adopted by textile product manufacturers. The knife cutting head is equipped with multiple cutting tools: knives, notch tools, drill punches, and markers to meet diverse cutting and marking demands. Laser cutters are the second most used method in textile cutting and are frequently adopted for single-ply cutting. It can create anti-fray edges on thermoplastic materials which are most synthetic fibers including polyester and nylon. Diverse treatment effects are attainable, such as cutting, kiss cutting, and marking, through controlled laser intensity. The choice of the cutting method depends on the properties of materials as well as the complexity of the required contours to be cut.
The most important consideration in the configuration of automated cutting systems is whether a single ply or multiple plies of fabrics would be cut. Single-ply cutting enables continuous processes and eliminates the presence of a spreader since the fabric can be fed to the cutting area directly from a roll. A conveyorized cutting table is used for increased productivity, where the cutting continues with the advance of the cutting surface. With the moving surface, an extra-large component exceeding the length of the cutting table is possible to be cut in this configuration.
When multiple stacks of fabric are spread to cut, stronger cutting power is required, of course, than single-ply cutting. An oscillating knife maximizes the cutting capability by moving up and down as the knife advances. Since Gerber Technology introduced the first fully automated cutting system in the 1960s, the automated cutting market has matured and become much more competitive over the several past few decades. The main areas of current innovation are related to elaborated sub-functions or supplementary assistance to the existing cutting technology: productivity, versatility, and pattern matching capability. NE
Source: Minyoung Suh, NC State Wilson College of Textiles, Raleigh, North Carolina (USA), Journal of Textile and Apparel Technology and Management (ITMA, 2019).