US20140277663A1 - System and Method for Creating Custom-Fit Apparel Designs - Google Patents

System and Method for Creating Custom-Fit Apparel Designs Download PDF

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US20140277663A1
US20140277663A1 US14202176 US201414202176A US2014277663A1 US 20140277663 A1 US20140277663 A1 US 20140277663A1 US 14202176 US14202176 US 14202176 US 201414202176 A US201414202176 A US 201414202176A US 2014277663 A1 US2014277663 A1 US 2014277663A1
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customer
garment
invention
pattern
manufacturing
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US14202176
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Neil Rohin Gupta
Paul Eremenko
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3d Tech LLC
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Neil Rohin Gupta
Paul Eremenko
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    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06FELECTRIC DIGITAL DATA PROCESSING
    • G06F17/00Digital computing or data processing equipment or methods, specially adapted for specific functions
    • G06F17/50Computer-aided design
    • AHUMAN NECESSITIES
    • A41WEARING APPAREL
    • A41HAPPLIANCES OR METHODS FOR MAKING CLOTHES, e.g. FOR DRESS-MAKING, FOR TAILORING, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • A41H3/00Patterns for cutting-out; Methods of drafting or marking-out such patterns, e.g. on the cloth
    • A41H3/007Methods of drafting or marking-out patterns using computers
    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06QDATA PROCESSING SYSTEMS OR METHODS, SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES; SYSTEMS OR METHODS SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • G06Q30/00Commerce, e.g. shopping or e-commerce
    • G06Q30/06Buying, selling or leasing transactions
    • G06Q30/0601Electronic shopping
    • G06Q30/0621Item configuration or customization
    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06QDATA PROCESSING SYSTEMS OR METHODS, SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES; SYSTEMS OR METHODS SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • G06Q50/00Systems or methods specially adapted for specific business sectors, e.g. utilities or tourism
    • G06Q50/04Manufacturing
    • AHUMAN NECESSITIES
    • A41WEARING APPAREL
    • A41HAPPLIANCES OR METHODS FOR MAKING CLOTHES, e.g. FOR DRESS-MAKING, FOR TAILORING, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • A41H3/00Patterns for cutting-out; Methods of drafting or marking-out such patterns, e.g. on the cloth
    • A41H3/04Making patterns by modelling on the human body
    • AHUMAN NECESSITIES
    • A41WEARING APPAREL
    • A41HAPPLIANCES OR METHODS FOR MAKING CLOTHES, e.g. FOR DRESS-MAKING, FOR TAILORING, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • A41H42/00Multi-step production lines for making clothes
    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06FELECTRIC DIGITAL DATA PROCESSING
    • G06F2217/00Indexing scheme relating to computer aided design [CAD]
    • G06F2217/32Cloth
    • YGENERAL TAGGING OF NEW TECHNOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENTS; GENERAL TAGGING OF CROSS-SECTIONAL TECHNOLOGIES SPANNING OVER SEVERAL SECTIONS OF THE IPC; TECHNICAL SUBJECTS COVERED BY FORMER USPC CROSS-REFERENCE ART COLLECTIONS [XRACs] AND DIGESTS
    • Y02TECHNOLOGIES OR APPLICATIONS FOR MITIGATION OR ADAPTATION AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE
    • Y02PCLIMATE CHANGE MITIGATION TECHNOLOGIES IN THE PRODUCTION OR PROCESSING OF GOODS
    • Y02P90/00Enabling technologies with a potential contribution to greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions mitigation
    • Y02P90/30Computing systems specially adapted for manufacturing

Abstract

An automated system for the production of a personalized custom-fit garment comprises a scanner for obtaining a three-dimensional model of a customer's body shape; a computer having non-transitory computer algorithms for scaling a digital design to the customer's body shape, customizing the digital pattern with the customer's fit and style preferences, and visualizing the drape and fit of the garment; a database comprising a set of digital design patterns; and an automated garment manufacturing system networked to a central controller. A method for creating a personalized custom-fit garment comprises obtaining three-dimensional body measurements of a customer, having the customer select and customize a particular garment design, and manufacturing the personalized garment using an automated manufacturing process. The system and method can be used to prepare any kind of garments without substantive manual intervention or touch labor.

Description

  • [0001]
    This application claims the priority benefit of U.S. provisional patent applications serial nos. 61/792,506 and 61/792,743, both filed on Mar. 15, 2013, the contents of which are incorporated herein by reference in their entirety.
  • [0002]
    This application also incorporates by reference in its entirety Applicants' U.S. non-provisional patent application entitled “System and Method for Automated Manufacturing of Custom Apparel”, filed on even date and having the same inventors as the instant application.
  • BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
  • [0003]
    Ready-to-wear apparel is typically manufactured in factories which produce large numbers of garments at a time. Bolts of fabric, typically laid out many layers at a time, are cut into pattern pieces, which are then sewn together in an assembly line fashion to produce garments. Although the garments are cut and sewn with the assistance of machines, the process is nevertheless labor-intensive, and includes manual movement of patterns, sewn garments, and operation of sewing machines and other kinds of equipment. Accordingly, many manufacturers prepare garments in low-wage countries to take advantage of lower labor costs for manual labor. While mass production of apparel can maximize throughput and provide significant economies of scale, mass production does not allow for personalization of a garment for a particular consumer beyond the selection of one of a handful of stock sizes. Rather, customers wishing personalized or custom-fit clothing must purchase a garment off-the-rack and then have the garment altered as they wish, or they must employ a tailor for manual production of the item. Both of these options are costly and time-consuming.
  • [0004]
    As clothing manufacturers are typically located in low-wage countries, there can be a significant period of time from when a buyer places an order to the time that the garments are delivered. Items purchased in bulk quantities are typically shipped by sea, thereby introducing significant delays and variability in the timeliness of delivery. Smaller lots can be shipped by air, although transportation costs then become a significant element of the garment's cost.
  • [0005]
    Clothing is typically manufactured in a factory in a massively parallel manual manner. That is, each item of equipment used to manufacture clothing is operated by hand, and there are large numbers of identical machines in parallel operation. The manual operation of the manufacturing machines does not require any digital connectivity between them, and the machines are therefore operated in a standalone manner and are not networked to a centralized computer control system for operation. Although certain sewing machines are “computerized” and can accept flash drives or similar devices, the computerization is generally limited to accepting upload of a limited set of infrequently varied machine configuration parameters, and these machines are not networked and cannot be operated remotely.
  • [0006]
    In addition to mass production in a factory, apparel can also be prepared by hand by custom tailoring, whether at home or commercially by a tailor or seamstress. Custom tailoring generally involves measuring a customer, having a customer choose style, fabric, and fit preferences, sewing the garment, and potentially adjusting the garment's fit during the course of one or more fittings. The resultant garment has a fit and style which is personalized to the customer's preferences, but it is typically costly due to the large amount of manual labor involved preparing the garment and the amount of time required on the part of the customer. Consequently, custom tailoring does not constitute a large segment of the apparel industry.
  • [0007]
    Current sizing of garments is usually undertaken with reference to body measurements obtained from anthropometric data surveys. For example, in 1939-1940, about 15,000 American women participated in a national survey conducted by the National Bureau of Home Economics. A technician took 59 body measurements of each volunteer, and the results were published in 1941 under the title “Women's Measurements for Garment and Pattern Construction”. Using the data obtained from this study, the U.S. clothing industry developed national clothing sizing standards for women which were widely adopted by apparel manufacturers. Although these standards provide sizing measurements for women of tall, regular, and short heights, most individuals deviate from the mean fit model in body shape or other key dimensions, thereby yielding a suboptimal fit.
  • [0008]
    Recently, certain manufactures have implemented changes in clothing sizing, termed vanity sizing. As Americans have recently become heavier, these manufacturers have begun selling larger-sized clothing labeled with smaller size numbers, thereby appealing to customers' desires to consider themselves as having a slim body shape. As manufacturers generally do not move in lockstep with regard to changes in vanity sizing, garments having the same nominal size will typically have different fits, making direct sizing comparisons difficult.
  • [0009]
    Additionally, some customers also prefer garments that are looser or tighter than the ready-to-wear apparel which is available through most retail outlets or from online sellers.
  • [0010]
    There is, therefore, an unmet demand for methods and systems for economical and rapid automated manufacturing of personalized custom-fit apparel.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
  • [0011]
    The present invention is intended to address the above problems associated with creation of customized garments.
  • [0012]
    One aspect of the present invention is directed to an automated system for the production of a personalized custom-fit garment. The inventive system can comprise:
      • (a) a scanner configured for obtaining a scan comprising a three-dimensional model of a customer's body shape;
      • (b) a computer comprising memory, an input device, a processor, a network connection, and a computer-readable storage medium having non-transitory computer instruction code;
      • (c) a database comprising a set of digital design patterns contributed by an online designer community; and
      • (d) an automated garment manufacturing system comprising manufacturing equipment and material handling equipment networked to a central controller.
  • [0017]
    The automated garment manufacturing system is to be understood as being substantially or fully automated after the system receives a complete order from a customer for a personalized custom-fit garment. After the customer has had his or her body scanned, and selected and personalized a garment design, the inventive manufacturing system will then manufacture the garment upon receipt of the order in an automated manner without requiring further substantive manual intervention. In a fully automated embodiment of the invention, no manual intervention or touch labor is involved during manufacture of the garment. That is, a human monitor is not needed to assist the manufacturing process.
  • [0018]
    When manufacturing certain kinds of garments, there may be particular steps which cannot be readily automated, for example, due to the nature of the manufacturing process or when using delicate materials/components. In such instances, a human monitor may assist the invention in placement or positioning of workpieces or garment components during manufacture of the personalized custom-fit garment. Such minor amount of touch labor will normally be less than two minutes per garment during the entire manufacturing process, and will typically be about one minute or less. Such minor amounts of touch labor during manufacture of a garment in accordance with present invention are still dramatically lower than the overwhelmingly manual processes currently used for manufacturing apparel.
  • [0019]
    The computer-readable storage medium used by the computer may be a hard drive, floppy drive, solid state drive, memory stick, CD, DVD, or any kind of magnetic or optical device which can store data. The storage medium can be read-only, or it can have read-write capabilities for periodic updates or modifications to the computer instruction code.
  • [0020]
    The computer-readable storage medium used in the inventive system may comprise non-transitory computer instructions comprising:
      • (a) sizing algorithms for extracting sizing parameters from the customer's body shape scan and parametrically scaling a selected digital pattern to the customer's body shape;
      • (b) customization algorithms for enabling a customer to select and incorporate fit and style preferences into the digital pattern; and
      • (c) visualization algorithms for rapidly visualizing the drape and fit of the digital garment design pattern around a digital representation of the customer's body shape derived from the scanner, and for allowing the customer to interact with and modify design parameters.
  • [0024]
    The algorithms contain the computer instruction code to enable the computer system to perform the corresponding actions.
  • [0025]
    In an embodiment of the invention, the scanner is a non-contact body scanner which generates a three-dimensional digital representation of the customer's body shape.
  • [0026]
    In an embodiment of the invention, the scanner is a white light scanner, structured white light scanner, eye-safe laser scanner, or a millimeter wave imaging scanner.
  • [0027]
    In an embodiment of the invention, the storage medium may further comprise non-transitory computer instruction code comprising nesting algorithms configured for minimizing fabric waste by optimizing arrangement of pattern pieces on the fabric prior to cutting the pattern pieces from the fabric.
  • [0028]
    A digital pattern may contain any kind of electronic data which may be needed to manufacture a garment in accordance with the present invention. For example, the digital pattern may comprise design parameters and manufacturing settings such as:
      • (a) a three-dimensional digital geometry of the pattern;
      • (b) a corresponding two-dimensional digital projection of the design;
      • (c) garment sewing and assembly machine instructions;
      • (d) fabric type and fabric orientation parameters; and
      • (e) choice and placement of finishes and hardware.
  • [0034]
    The finishes and hardware can be any kind of processes or items which are applied to the garment, for example, decoration or fastening. A non-limiting list of finishes may include specialty washes such as stone- or acid-washing, distress- or wear-patterns, and specialty fabric dyes. A non-limiting list of hardware may include rivets, buttons, zippers, snaps, hooks, hook-and-loop fasteners, elastic bands, stitch styles and spacings, custom labels, and embroidery.
  • [0035]
    The sizing algorithms are used by the present invention to scale a selected digital pattern to the customer's body shape. In an embodiment of the invention, the sizing algorithms extract sizing parameters from a three-dimensional point cloud obtained from the customer's body scan. The algorithms for parametrically scaling the digital pattern adjust the shape and fit of the garment to the customer's body shape and size so that the resultant personalized custom-fit garment is manufactured to customer preferences.
  • [0036]
    In an embodiment of the invention, the customization algorithms are configured for incorporating one or more customer preferences into the selected digital pattern so that the garment is personalized to the customer's preferences. For example, the customization algorithms may take into account customer preferences such as the following:
      • (a) fabric and fabric color selection;
      • (b) thread selection;
      • (c) choice of customized hardware;
      • (d) embroidery selection and placement;
      • (e) label placement or absence thereof;
      • (f) design element placement or repositioning; and
      • (g) choice of customized finishes.
  • [0044]
    In this manner, customers can see an image of their body wearing the desired design, and can adjust fabric draping, fit, and other preferences as they wish.
  • [0045]
    The visualization algorithms are used to visualize the customer's requested design and preferences and to display the personalized custom-fit design to the customer. In an embodiment of the invention, the visualization algorithms are configured for:
      • (a) creating a digital avatar of a customer, the digital avatar providing a three-dimensional representation of the customer's body shape;
      • (b) visualizing a selected digital pattern around the digital avatar;
      • (c) visualizing fabric draping and fit of the selected digital pattern on the digital avatar; and
      • (d) retaining customer modifications of drape and fit in the digital pattern for use by the customer in subsequent orders.
  • [0050]
    Another aspect of the present invention is directed to a method for creating a personalized custom-fit garment. The inventive method comprises the steps of:
      • (a) obtaining three-dimensional body measurements of a customer using a non-contact whole-body scanner;
      • (b) providing the customer with a plurality of digital garment designs from which the customer may select a particular garment design, the digital garment designs obtained from an associated community of designers;
      • (c) adapting the selected design to the customer's body measurements to obtain a customized design;
      • (d) incorporating customer style and fit preferences in the customized design to obtain a personalized custom-fit design;
      • (e) generating a digital pattern for a garment based on the personalized custom-fit design; and
      • (f) manufacturing the personalized custom-fit garment from the digital pattern using an automated manufacturing process.
  • [0057]
    In an embodiment of the invention, the method may further comprise the steps of displaying a dimensionally-accurate three-dimensional representation of the personalized custom-fit design in real time to a customer, and rapidly updating the three-dimensional representation as the customer selects style and fit preferences.
  • [0058]
    In an embodiment of the invention, the method may further comprise storing the customer's three-dimensional body measurements in a database for subsequent orders; and preparing subsequent orders for personalized custom-fit garments in accordance with the inventive method using the stored body measurements.
  • [0059]
    In an embodiment of the invention, the method may further comprise periodically refreshing the digital garment designs with replacement designs, for example, to replace seldom-used garment designs with new designs from the designer community.
  • [0060]
    In an embodiment of the invention, the method may further comprise offering a customer an incentive to rescan the customer's body and obtain updated three-dimensional body measurements at a predetermined time or upon passage of a pre-determined period of time. Incentives may include customer loyalty discount programs or sales opportunities through linkages to a customer's online account with other providers, such as Facebook, Google+, or with retailers and department stores. Such linkages may be employed to derive information on a customer's birthday, anniversary, or other significant life events or lifestyle trends such as (but not limited to) weight loss, weight gain, or having a baby.
  • [0061]
    The pre-determined time may be the customer's birthday, anniversary, reaching a particular sales quantity (for example, purchase of three pairs of jeans over the course of a year) or sales quantity (for example, purchase of $500 of merchandise over the course of a year), or any other event as may be deemed appropriate or desirable by the seller The passage of the pre-determined period of time can be any amount of time deemed appropriate by the seller, for example, three months, six months, or twelve months since the time of the previous body scan.
  • [0062]
    The inventive method may also comprise linking a customer's profile to an online or store account, and providing the customer with an incentive to rescan the customer's body using information obtained from the linked account. For example, if the customer enters a wedding date into his or her account with a local department store, that wedding date can be retrieved by the seller and entered into customer's profile with the seller of the invention, and the customer can be provided an incentive on his or her wedding anniversary to rescan his or her body. The linked account can be any retailer with whom the seller has a linking agreement.
  • [0063]
    The inventive system can be used to prepare any kind of garment. For example, the garment can be a pair of jeans, a pair of pants, shirt, blouse, vest, suit, dress, skirt, undergarment, hat, purse or bag, and shoes.
  • [0064]
    Advantageously, the inventive method permits a garment to be delivered in a short amount of time as compared to current manufacturing procedures such as mass production and hand tailoring. In one embodiment, the total time to deliver a garment (comprising manufacturing time and finishing time) is about an hour, although this amount of time will vary depending on the garment to be manufactured and the finishes selected. The automated nature of the inventive manufacturing method enables the garment to be fabricated at or near the point of sale thereby reducing the delivery time to the customer as compared to shipping of mass-produced items from low-wage countries.
  • [0065]
    As previously stated, the digital garment designs available for selection by customers comprise designs obtained from an associated community of designers, that is, from designers who wish to contribute designs for use by the invention. The members of the designer community can communicate via a website to provide new designs and comments regarding existing garment designs. Advantageously, a differentiating attribute of the designer community is that it affords amateur designers the opportunity to access manufacturing and direct-to-customer retailing through the seller without having to work with existing big manufacturers, retailers, and labels. Accordingly, the invention dramatically lowers the barrier to participation in the marketplace for amateur designers.
  • [0066]
    In an embodiment of the invention, the website provides a discussion forum and online tools and software to designers for creation of digital design patterns, and encourages collaboration, sharing, and co-design of digital design patterns. The website may also provide features to enable prize-based design competitions, display of design popularity and usage statistics, and design and designer peer reputation scores. Prizes may be monetary, non-monetary, or both, and will depend upon the particular embodiment of the invention.
  • [0067]
    The designer community website may consist of online forums, message-boards, design, visualization, and collaboration tools that enable amateur and professional designers to contribute design patterns. The designer community may employ means for selecting a limited number of best designs to make available to customers through the use of prize competitions, aggregation of usage statistics, and peer reputation scoring of designs and designers. For example, the designer community may be asked to vote on submitted designs to select the best designs for inclusion with the invention. There may be community promotion events, such as challenges to the designer community for the best floral-patterned shift dresses, or the best pocket designs for overdyed jeans.
  • [0068]
    When a customer selects a designer's digital design pattern to be used for manufacturing a personalized custom-fit garment, the designer can be paid a royalty as compensation for having contributed the design. In this manner, designers are compensated when their designs are selected by customers, and there is no up-front payment to designers when the customer selects their designs for manufacture. Alternatively, the designers can receive a single lump-sum payment if the manufacturer chooses to carry their clothing design as a stock design.
  • [0069]
    Customers may be provided the opportunity to customize their garment in any manner permitted by the designer, seller, or manufacturer. For example, a customer may be provided with design options such as a choice of fabric and fabric direction. The fabric available for selection by customers can be manufactured from woven or non-woven natural fibers, synthetic fibers, or a combination thereof.
  • [0070]
    In an embodiment of the invention, customers can choose from a non-limiting selection of fabrics made from denim, cotton, linen, wool, silk, rayon, polyester, nylon, Lycra, and combinations or blends thereof.
  • [0071]
    The invention is not limited to the preparation of garments by sewing woven or non-woven fabrics, and the principles of the invention are equally applicable to the preparation of garments by three-dimensional printing or other forms of additive manufacturing, adhesive bonding, or knitting from yarn.
  • [0072]
    Other aspects and advantages of the invention will be apparent from the description below.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE FIGURES
  • [0073]
    FIG. 1 illustrates a flow chart showing a process for preparing an article of clothing for a new customer in accordance with an aspect of the present invention;
  • [0074]
    FIG. 2 illustrates a flow chart showing a process for preparing an article of clothing for an existing or previous customer in accordance with an aspect of the present invention;
  • [0075]
    FIG. 3 illustrates a flow chart showing a process for preparing an article of clothing for a third-party purchaser in accordance with an aspect of the present invention;
  • [0076]
    FIG. 4 illustrates a perspective view of an exemplary embodiment of a system for rapid automated preparation of a garment in accordance with the present invention;
  • [0077]
    FIG. 5 illustrates a schematic diagram showing the physical arrangement of manufacturing equipment, material handling equipment, and a digital control system for manufacture of a garment in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the present invention;
  • [0078]
    FIG. 6 illustrates an exemplary embodiment of a flow process for preparation of a garment in accordance with the present invention;
  • [0079]
    FIG. 7 illustrates manufacturing times for preparation of a pair of jeans in an exemplary embodiment of the present invention;
  • [0080]
    FIG. 8 illustrates a command and control architecture for directing garment preparation equipment in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention;
  • [0081]
    FIG. 9 illustrates robotic movement of pattern pieces through a workflow in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention;
  • [0082]
    FIGS. 10 and 11 illustrate fabric stitching machines equipped with scanners for detecting fiducial markings, and stitching the fabric using the fiducial markings as guides;
  • [0083]
    FIG. 12 illustrates an embodiment of a fabric gripper which uses vacuum to move fabric through the garment preparation equipment in accordance with the present invention;
  • [0084]
    FIG. 13 illustrates equipment for use in preparation of a pair of jeans in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the present invention; and
  • [0085]
    FIG. 14 illustrates an exemplary sequence of computer instructions for stitching a pair of jeans and the corresponding amount of time for each step.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
  • [0086]
    An object of the present invention is to enable the fabrication of apparel tailored to particular customer preferences with a high level of flexibility and customization, comparable to that of conventional hand tailoring, with the ability to utilize a wide range of digitally-represented clothing patterns to manufacture the personalized custom-fit garments on significantly shorter timelines.
  • [0087]
    A further object of the invention is to improve upon the level of automation that is customarily present in high-volume production facilities by automating material handling among manufacturing work steps and by providing a centralized control system for the manufacturing and material handling equipment. The invention is aimed principally at low- to medium-volume production and consequently is geared toward maximizing the flexibility and range of customization rather than production rate.
  • [0088]
    The automated manufacturing of apparel in accordance with the principles of the present invention provides distinct advantages over mass production and hand tailoring techniques. The invention eliminates the need to maintain physical stock sets or digital stock sets of patterns for use to prepare garments. That is, the invention does not require maintaining paper patterns or standardized digital designs in multiple discrete sizes as do mass producers or hand tailors. Rather, a three-dimensional representation of each customer's body is obtained by a scanner, and digital designs are electronically fitted to the customer's body shape for enhanced fit. The invention also provides for realistic visualization of draping and fit. While designers currently use fit and draping visualization with pattern design software to refine clothing designs for an entire production line, the invention uses fit and draping visualization in conjunction with body scan measurements to enable customers to adjust fit and drape preferences before a garment is manufactured, thereby customizing the garment's fit to their own tastes and body shape.
  • [0089]
    The invention also avoids the need to lay out paper patterns on fabric, or to plot the layout of patterns on potentially hundreds of plies of fabric as performed in mass production garment factories. Rather, the invention utilizes auto-nesting software for each and every custom pattern to determine the optimal arrangement of digital pattern pieces on fabric for subsequent cutting and thereby minimizes fabric waste while preserving flexibility.
  • [0090]
    The invention also eliminates manual cutting and handling of fabric. On the factory floor, manual labor is required to move fabric plies into position and to cut out pattern pieces, while hand tailoring requires precise manual cutting of pattern pieces. The present invention provides for an automated manufacturing process which does not require manual manipulation or handling of fabric or garments during production.
  • [0091]
    Advantageously, the invention also eliminates the need to manually move articles from one work station to another, for example, by physically moving garments to the next station, possibly located in a distant part of the workroom, or with the assistance of an overhead conveyor. The use of low-cost offshore labor typically does not create significant incentives for manufacturers to automate production. In contrast, the invention substantially eliminates the use of touch labor in material handling between machines. The use of robotic manipulators for fabric and garment handling substantially reduces touch labor in manufacturing and thereby reducing repetitive stress injuries in workers.
  • [0092]
    The invention also eliminates the need for manual sewing and garment preparation. Whether mass produced in a factory or prepared by hand tailoring, the manufacture of clothing normally involves manual operation of sewing machines and other manufacturing equipment. In the case of mass production, the production lines are typically massively parallel operations involving many workers assembling garments. In contrast, the present invention eliminates the need for manual operation as the entire processing is done in an automated manner involving centralized command and control of garment manufacturing equipment and material handling equipment. Consequently, the invention provides for a short manufacturing time of about 15-20 minutes for a garment (excluding finishes), in contrast to current mass producers for whom manufacturing time is a metric of lower significance than production rate.
  • [0093]
    For ease of discussion, the term “sewing machine” will be used to refer to any machine which is involved in the manufacture of a garment. Consistent with the invention and unless otherwise qualified, a sewing machine may be a conventional stitching machine, or it may be a riveter, embroidery machine, bar tacker, serger, or button holer, or finishing machine, or the term may include printing, adhesion, or knitting machines in embodiments of the invention where the garment is manufactured by means other than sewing.
  • [0094]
    The automated material handling equipment used in the present invention can be generally classified as either sensing equipment, fixturing and guidance equipment, or pickup and transport equipment.
  • [0095]
    Sensing can be understood as the steps the automated material handling takes to determine where and when to undertake the next step in the manufacture of a garment. Fixturing and guidance refers to the use of static hardware fixtures or guides to move, position, or coax a fabric, workpiece, or garment into the correct position for subsequent action by the manufacturing equipment. Pickup and transport by the automated material handling equipment involves movement of fabric, workpiece, or garment to another location for subsequent activity.
  • [0096]
    The invention considers the characteristics of different fabrics during manufacture of a garment. For example, wool, denim, cotton, polyester, and silk have different physical properties and these differences will be taken into account when selecting fixtures and handling hardware, and developing computer instructions for the manufacture and material handling of the garments and workpieces.
  • [0097]
    The programmable material handling equipment utilized in the present invention provides substantially all of the garment movement functions. These machines generally comprise CNC (computer numerical control) technology to permit computerized control.
  • [0098]
    Automated material handling in accordance with the invention can be generally divided into the following six procedures. In each case, the underlying technology can generally be purchased commercially or it can custom-designed:
      • (a) pattern marking;
      • (b) pattern cutting;
      • (c) fabric pickup and handling;
      • (d) fixturing and fabric guidance;
      • (e) sewing; and
      • (f) finishing.
  • [0105]
    A. Pattern marking involves the placement of fiducial lines or other markings on to the fabric to indicate where fabric should be grasped, picked up or otherwise handled, sewn, trimmed, embroidered, riveted, etc. These markings are indicative of specific locations on the fabric pattern and the relevant edge, and assist in positively identifying individual edges and grasping locations later during the manufacturing process.
  • [0106]
    B. Pattern cutting involves cutting pattern pieces from a bolt of fabric. The pattern pieces can be cut using a variety of cutting tools, which are generally specific to the fabric type, fabric thickness, and cutting speed. For example, the pattern cutting tools can include drag knives, rolling knives, reciprocating knives, or lasers.
  • [0107]
    C. Fabric pickup and handling involves the movement of fabric from one work station to another. Examples of fabric pickup and handling equipment include vacuum fabric grippers, pin grippers, and reconfigurable robotic handlers.
  • [0108]
    D. Fixturing involves the accurate positioning of fabric, garments, or workpieces with the assistance of guidance fixtures or static guide jigs so that the workpieces can be sewn, riveted, embroidered, or otherwise worked on during manufacture. Fixturing also includes a centralized command and control system (further described below) which provides each local automated programmable manufacturing equipment and automated programmable material handling equipment with relevant stitch and workpiece movement instructions for manufacturing the garment. Fabric guidance refers to the robotic positioning of a work piece in the manufacturing equipment. The invention implements a closed-loop vision feedback system in conjunction with sensors placed on the manufacturing equipment.
  • [0109]
    E. Sewing refers to the mechanized securing of two fabric pattern pieces with a thread and needle. Sewing can also refer to the use of a thread to the secure the free edge of a cut fabric. A key aspect of sewing quality involves the ability to precisely control the relative feed rate and orientation of adjacent patterns into the sewing machine.
  • [0110]
    F. Finishing involves the placement and removal of a near-finished garment into washing, drying, or other finishing equipment that provides for, e.g., specialty washes, distress, or wear finishes. The placement and removal can be accomplished equipment as described in items (C) and (D) above.
  • [0111]
    The centralized command and control system parses out required tasks to all the various machines under its control, as well as coordinates the work flow. In many instances, these CNC machines have a low degree of machine intelligence, with only simple microcontrollers present onboard. CNC machines may have computer circuitry which permits them to accept a single file, for example, via a USB drive or from a floppy drive. The present invention networks these machines to the central command and control system via a local controller so that the manufacturing equipment, having different levels of machine intelligence, is controlled through a single architecture.
  • [0112]
    The controller system may comprise a conventional computer having a processor, an input device such as a keyboard or mouse, memory such as a hard drive and volatile or nonvolatile memory, and computer code for the functioning of the invention. The computer may also comprise a programmable printed circuit board, microcontroller, or other device for receiving and processing data signals such as those received from the local controllers, programmable manufacturing equipment, programmable material handling equipment, and robotic manipulators.
  • [0113]
    The computer system may be a conventional computer which is pre-loaded with the required computer code or software, or it may be a custom-designed computer. The computer system may be a single computer which performs the steps of the invention, or it may comprise a plurality of computers, such as a server/client. In certain embodiments, a plurality of clients such as desktop, laptop, or tablet computers can be connected to a server such that, for example, multiple customers can enter their orders for personalized custom-fit garments at the same time. The computer system may also be networked with other computers over a local area network (LAN) connection or via an Internet connection. The system may also comprise a backup system which retains a copy of the data obtained by the invention.
  • [0114]
    A client computer can have its own processor, input means such as a keyboard, mouse, or touchscreen, and memory, or it may be a dumb terminal which does not have its own independent processing capabilities, but relies on the computational resources of another computer, such as a server, to which it is connected or networked. Depending on the particular implementation of the invention, a client system can contain the necessary computer code to assume control of the system if such a need arises. In one embodiment, the client system is a tablet or laptop. For example, a customer in a retail store can be given an Apple iPad tablet for placing an order and visualizing the personalized custom-fit garment to be manufactured. The iPad or other tablet or laptop computer can be in wireless communication with the server, which would accept and process the order.
  • [0115]
    The components of the computer system may be conventional, although the system will typically be custom-configured for each particular implementation. The computer system may run on any particular architecture, for example, personal/microcomputer, minicomputer, or mainframe systems. Exemplary operating systems include Apple Mac OS X and iOS, Microsoft Windows, and UNIX/Linux; SPARC, POWER and Itanium-based systems; and z/Architecture.
  • [0116]
    The computer code to perform the invention may be written in any programming language or model-based development environment, such as but not limited to C/C++, C#, Objective-C, Java, Basic/VisualBasic, MATLAB, Simulink, StateFlow, Lab View, or assembler. The computer code may comprise subroutines which are written in a proprietary computer language which is specific to the manufacturer of a circuit board, controller, or other computer hardware component used in conjunction with the invention.
  • [0117]
    In certain embodiments of the invention, a human monitor may be present to oversee the manufacturing processes and to resolve any manufacturing errors or faults. Nevertheless, the monitor will not be substantially participating in the manufacture and therefore will not routinely need to move or feed work pieces or operate the manufacturing equipment.
  • [0118]
    The digital design patterns which are used by the invention to manufacture clothing can employ any kind of file format which is used in the fashion industry. For example, the digital design patterns can be stored in a proprietary format, DXF format, XML format, or other format for use by the invention.
  • [0119]
    The present invention will now be discussed with reference to the Figures, wherein like figure reference numerals correspond to like elements.
  • [0120]
    The following discussion exemplifies the principles of the present invention by reference to the manufacture of a pair of jeans. However, it is to be understood that the invention is equally capable of manufacturing other articles of clothing, such as (but not limited to) pants, shorts, boxers, shirts, blouses, scarves, and dresses. The invention can be used to prepare clothing for customers of any age or gender, and the invention is not limited to the preparation of clothing for a particular age or gender. For example, the invention can be programmed to prepare women's jeans, children's shorts, and men's boxers.
  • [0121]
    In certain embodiments, it may be advantageous for the system to manufacture only a single garment type in order to obtain efficiencies in production. In other embodiments, the invention can be programmed to prepare multiple garment types in order to provide additional marketing opportunities to customers.
  • [0122]
    In order to minimize the footprint of the invention in a retail store, portions of the inventive system can be located outside the customer-accessible part of the store. For example, the body scanner can be located in the front of the store, while the garment preparation equipment can be located in the rear of the store or the basement. Alternatively, store owners wishing to show the high-tech nature of the invention to customers may prefer to locate all the equipment in a customer-visible location so that customers can watch the garment be sewn while they wait.
  • [0123]
    An alternative instantiation of the invention is for the automated manufacturing line to be placed in a regional microfactory instead of a retail store. Such microfactories would be significantly smaller than traditional mass production facilities and would specifically cater to the product demand of a particular region or metropolitan area. A garment manufactured in a regional microfactory could be delivered to the customer within hours of an order being placed or overnight.
  • [0124]
    FIG. 1 is a flow chart illustrating an exemplary process for preparing an article of clothing in accordance with an aspect of the present invention. The figure illustrates the steps which take place when a customer enters a store for purchase of an article of clothing. In order to minimize customer waiting time, the components of the invention can be located in a single location, such as a retail store, so that customers can obtain the garments they ordered as soon as the garments have been sewn.
  • [0125]
    Upon entering a retail location, a new customer 10 would enter have his or her body scanned by a non-contact active whole-body scanner for preparation of a three-dimensional digital representation 14 of the customer's body. Whole-body scanners are known in the art and are available from manufacturers such as Cyberware, Inc., Monterey, Calif. (model WBX white light scanner); Breukmann GmbH, Meersburg, Germany (model bodySCAN structured while light scanner); Vitronic Machine Vision Ltd., Louisville, Ky. (model Vitus 3D Bodyscanner XXL, eye-safe laser scanner); and Unique Solutions, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada (model Intellifit millimeter wave RF scanner). Each vendor typically provides specialized software for converting a three-dimensional body scan into a point cloud. Depending on the scanner technology and the scanner manufacturer's recommendations, customers may be able to have their body scanned while wearing their street clothing, or they may be asked to wear close-fitting garments so that the scanner can obtain accurate data. Examples of software programs which provide for the extraction of body measurements from point clouds obtained during three-dimensional body scans include Bodymetrics (San Francisco, Calif.).
  • [0126]
    While body scanners have been used in the past, their utility has been limited to standalone validation of selected measurements in conjunctions with traditional manufacturing processes. Although body scanners have also been used to confirm that garments are being made to specifications, before the present invention, it has been previously unknown to combine body scanners with a full garment customization and automated custom manufacturing process. In contrast, the use of body scanners by the present invention is integrated with the design process to parametrically size digital garment designs to obtain digital patterns which are personalized to the customer's body shape.
  • [0127]
    Once the body scan is complete, the customer's profile 15 is created. The profile can include any kind of information that the manufacturer or store may wish to contain, such as customer preferences, three-dimensional digital model of body shape and history thereof (for long-term repeat customers), order history, shipping address, and billing information. The customer profile can be used prepare a three-dimensional digital self 22 of the customer which can be stored for later retrieval so that customers can make subsequent purchases without having to have their bodies re-scanned.
  • [0128]
    After the customer creates a profile, he or she would then be asked to select a particular pattern 16 for the garment to be custom-sewn. The pattern can consist of any kind of digital information required to prepare the desired garment. The patterns can be stored in a database, data table, or other computerized repository. The set of patterns can be refreshed periodically so that infrequently-used patterns are removed and replaced with new styles. The patterns for selection can be shown, for instance, as rotating three-dimensional models on a computer screen, three-dimensional holographic projections, or photographs of finished garments.
  • [0129]
    Once the pattern is selected by the customer, the customer would then be able to select custom features 17 for tailoring the garment to his or her personal tastes. For example, the customer may be given the option to select fabric color, type of decorative stitching on a pocket, presence or absence of rivets, and looser or tighter fits around specific parts of the customer's body. Certain designers may wish to maintain look of their brands by limiting the customization options available to customers. In certain embodiments of the invention, the invention can comprise computer code to allow a customer to see in real time how his or her customized garments would look around the customer's specific body shape prior to manufacture. The invention also allows for display of a dimensionally-accurate three-dimensional representation of the personalized custom-fit design to a customer, and rapidly updating the three-dimensional representation as the customer selects style and fit preferences.
  • [0130]
    Once the customer is satisfied the customized design for his or her garment, the inventive system would then adapt the design to the customer's body measurements to obtain a personalized custom-fit design 18. That is, the system would scale the customized design to the customer's three-dimensional body measurements. This process may also involve updating the custom-fit design in real time to show the customer the draping or fit 19 of the garment's fabric on the customer's body. Examples of software programs and manufacturers which provide for realistic draping and fit visualization of digital patterns include Optitex 3D Virtual Prototyping by Optitex (New York, N.Y.); Vstitcher by Browzwear Solutions Pte. Ltd. (Singapore); and Deviron LLC (Ithaca, N.Y.).
  • [0131]
    In accordance with the invention, a customer's body scan will result in a three-dimensional point cloud which can be converted into a digital representation that is augmented with data provided by the manufacturer or designer, and as modified by a customer's customizations, to result in two-dimensional representation of a pattern representing the pattern pieces to be cut from the fabric and sewn to manufacture the garment. Depending on the customer's style preferences, the algorithms of the invention may need to incorporate varying degrees of modifications of the three-dimensional digital representation. Once the customer has selected the desired customizations, the algorithms will convert the digital representation into a two-dimensional pattern file, which may optionally comprise garment sewing instructions and control instructions for the manufacturing and material handling equipment. The inventive system will convert the customized digital pattern into specific CNC manufacturing instructions for each machine as well as the order of operations and the manufacturing sequence. The seller may wish certain standardizations, such as stitch spacing, stitch width, or custom detailing so that customers can identify a garment as having been manufactured by the present invention.
  • [0132]
    In order to increase the number of patterns available to customers, fashion designers 13 such as those part of a designer community 20 can use pattern design tools 21 to prepare patterns for upload. The pattern design tools can include software which simulates the look and drape of a particular article of clothing on a body. Such pattern design tools are known in the art, for example, Click & Sew by Wild Ginger; Dress Shop Pro and My Pattern Designer by Livingsoft; Garment Designer by Cochenille; and Pattern Design Software by Optitex. The manufacturer or seller of the invention can specify a particular software type for use, or the manufacturer or seller can allow for open source pattern design tools or file types as are known in the art. The manufacturer can optionally arrange for fashion designers to purchase commercially-available pattern design tools at a favorable price, or can make free pattern design tools available via download or as a hosted online service from a website.
  • [0133]
    The seller can also provide for a website for the designer community to encourage designers to share or co-design digital pattern designs, i.e., “crowdsourcing” and to allow designers and members of the public to vote on preferred designs.
  • [0134]
    A designer submitting a new design can be paid outright for his or her design, or the designer can be paid on a royalty basis after his or her design is selected by a customer for preparation of an order. A seller may wish to limit the number of available patterns for a particular garment type in order to streamline customer choice, or the seller can wish to have a wide selection of patterns for maximal customer choice. Decisions regarding selection and refreshing of patterns and designer payment are not critical to the scope of the invention and can be made by the seller as deemed appropriate.
  • [0135]
    Designers who submit patterns can be professionals who work in the fashion industry, or they can be amateur designers who are not full-time practitioners of the art. Advantageously, the invention permits designers of any scale or experience level to provide their own digital pattern designs. If designers are paid a royalty only when their digital designs are selected by customers, rather than when uploaded to the system, the designers are incented to provide their most appealing designs, rather than designs which may be minimally acceptable by the public. Depending on the seller's marketing preferences, the seller may provide a large number of possible designs to customers for selection, or the seller may provide a limited number designs to avoid overwhelming customers with an excessive number of choices.
  • [0136]
    In one embodiment, the invention advantageously permits a seller to essentially eliminate the barrier-to-entry for new designers to contribute designs, and the invention does not require guaranteeing designers with minimal revenues and does not require upfront retainer costs or investment in a particular designer if that designer's styles are later found to be commercially unsuccessful.
  • [0137]
    Manufacturing of the selected design can be carried out as illustrated in Box 28. After customization of the personalized custom-fit pattern is complete, the system then generates a digital pattern 23 for use in manufacturing the garment.
  • [0138]
    After the digital pattern is prepared, the system uses nesting software 24 to lay out the pattern pieces on the fabric. The nesting software determines the optimal arrangement of the pattern pieces for the garment so that the pattern pieces can be cut 25 with a minimum of waste fabric.
  • [0139]
    Once the pattern pieces are digitally nested onto the fabric, the automated handling and control module of the invention undertakes the cutting 25, sewing 26, and finishing 27 of the personalized custom-fit garment from the digital pattern. This procedure involves marking the fabric into individual pattern pieces and applying fiducial markings, cutting the fabric into the pattern pieces, sewing and stitching the pieces to form the garment, and finishing and cleaning the garment so it is wearable by the customer. The assembly and stitching of the garment is entirely automated and there is minimal if any monitoring required by on-site personnel such as store employees. As shown in FIG. 1, the garment can be cut, sewn, and finished in under an hour while the customer waits, thereby increasing customer satisfaction.
  • [0140]
    While initial scanning of a customer's body to obtain the three-dimensional body scan will generally be done in a retail store 29, the invention allows for certain steps to be carried out online via a web interface 30. That is, once a customer's three-dimensional body measurements are stored in the customer profile, the invention can retrieve this stored information and use it to prepare additional personalized custom-fit garments in a largely automated manner. The web interface can be the means that customers or store employees interact with the invention to prepare personalized custom-fit garments.
  • [0141]
    Although the invention has been discussed with reference to cutting pattern pieces from fabric and stitching the pattern pieces to form the garment, the invention is equally applicable to preparation of bonded, printed, or knitted garments, and the same principles of the invention are applicable to such embodiments.
  • [0142]
    FIG. 2 illustrates a flow chart showing a process for preparing an article of clothing for an existing customer, that is, a customer who has already purchased a personalized custom-fit garment or has a stored customer profile with the retail store.
  • [0143]
    Existing customers 11 wishing to make purchases of additional garments may omit the step of obtaining a new body scan and can proceed directly to retrieval of their customer profile 15 which contains the earlier body scan. After the existing customer retrieves his or her customer profile 15, the customer can then order additional custom-fit garments as described above. Such features allow for improved customer retention and expand the marketing scope of the invention to new potential customers. If the customer is not in the store and orders the garment via the web interface, the finished garment can be sent to the customer for same-day or overnight delivery.
  • [0144]
    FIG. 2 also shows that upon selection 16 of a particular pattern, the designer of that pattern, who is part of the associated designer community 20, would receive a royalty payment. The nature of the royalty payment would have been previously determined by agreement between the manufacturer and the designer.
  • [0145]
    FIG. 3 illustrates a flow chart showing a process for preparing an article of clothing for a third-party purchaser. FIG. 3 shows that third-party purchasers 12 wishing to purchase garments for a friend or relative can do so using the earlier body scan data privately stored in the profile. Due to privacy concerns, a seller may not wish to provide third parties with direct access to a customer's body scan data. Accordingly, sellers can prevent third parties from obtaining the measurements themselves, but sellers can still allow indirect access to the stored information without display of measurements so that these third party purchasers can purchase garments for their friends or relatives. The third parties can purchase garments online 30 via a web interface, or by visiting the retail store 29. The web interface can provide online customers with same custom ordering options as offered to retail customers. That is, the online customers can select a pattern, customize the pattern to their preferences and previously-stored body measurements, and place an order for the inventive system to manufacture the clothing in an entirely automated manner. As in FIG. 2, upon selection 16 of a particular pattern, the designer of that pattern, who is part of the associated designer community 20, would receive a royalty payment.
  • [0146]
    FIG. 4 illustrates a perspective view of an embodiment of a system for rapid automated preparation of a garment in accordance with the present invention. The illustrated embodiment of a manufacturing system comprises a fabric stock feeder 50 which stores and delivers the desired fabric, serger 51, lock stitch sewing machine 52, chain stitch sewing machine 53, rivet setter 54, bar tacker 55, pocket setter 56, chain stitch sewing machine 57, pocket pattern machine 58, button holer 59, belt loop machine 60, chain stitch sewing machine 61, finishing machines 62, robotic manipulator 63, and cutting table 64. The cutting table can be equipped with multi-tool operating heads for use to mark the fabric with fiducial marks. These fiducial marks can be drawn with ink which is sensitive to wavelengths in the non-visible portions of the spectrum to minimize clutter in the visual field from the surrounding environment. Machine vision equipment can be used to detect the fiducial lines and to utilize these lines while manufacturing the garment.
  • [0147]
    Each of the machines illustrated in FIG. 4 is networked to a centralized control system (not illustrated) which operates and controls each machine. The robotic manipulators 63, also under control of the centralized control system, move the garment or workpieces through the manufacturing equipment in a sequential manner so that the garment can be sewn and finished in accordance with the customer's preferences.
  • [0148]
    Consistent with the invention, the robotic manipulator, also termed a robot, can have any kind of structure or configuration. The robotic manipulator can have a stylized anthropomorphic shape, such as Baxter robots manufactured by Rethink Robotics (Boston, Mass.), or those robots manufactured by Redwood Robotics (San Francisco, Calif.) or Kawada Industries (Tokyo, Japan). Alternatively, the robotic manipulator can consist of robotic arms and hands, for example, those manufactured by Barrett Robotics (Cambridge, Mass.). The robotic manipulator can have wheels, treads, or other means for movement, and move from one work station to the next sequentially during manufacture, or the robotic manipulator can be fixed in a single location during manufacture, or there may be any combination of moveable and stationary robotic manipulators. There may be one single robotic manipulator or there may be a plurality of robotic manipulators.
  • [0149]
    The manufacturing system illustrated in FIG. 4 is arranged in the shape of a letter “U” to form three separate manufacturing line segments, each having its own workflow direction, starting with serger 51 and ending with finishing machines 62. In alternative embodiments of the invention, the manufacturing equipment can be linear, in the shape of a letter “I”, so that there is only a single workflow direction for the production. The arrangement of the manufacturing equipment will vary depending on the particular embodiment of the invention.
  • [0150]
    FIG. 5 illustrates a schematic diagram showing the physical arrangement of manufacturing equipment, material handling equipment, and a digital control system for manufacture of a garment. A global controller 65 is used to control each of the programmable manufacturing and garment handling equipment. In the Figure, there are three robotic manipulators 63 which are used to prepare the garment. The first robotic manipulator 63 handles manipulation of fabric from the cutting table 64 to the bar tacker 55, serger 51, and chain stitch sewing machine 53. The second robotic manipulator 63 handles manipulation of the pocket pattern machine 58, serger 51, and pocket setter 56, and moves the unfinished garment to the area of the third robotic manipulator 63. The third robotic manipulator handles preparation of button holes 59, belt loops 60, and hemming 67, as well as the finishing equipment 62 comprising a wear station 68, washer 69, and dryer 70.
  • [0151]
    FIG. 6 illustrates an exemplary embodiment of a flow process for preparation of a pair of jeans in accordance with the invention. For ease of discussion, the manufacturing process can be divided into three line segments, each line segment attended to by a respective robot 63.
  • [0152]
    The first line segment 101 comprises the serger 51, lock stitch sewing machine 52, chain stitch sewing machine 53, riveter 54, and bar tacker 55 attended to by the first robot 63. The second line segment 102 consists of the pocket setter 56, second serger 51, second lockstitch sewing machine 52, and pocket pattern machine 58, each attended to by the second robot 63. The third line segment 103 consists of button holer 59, belt loop machine 60, second chain stitch sewing machine 61, as well as the finishing machines consisting of a wear station 68, stretcher 80, stone washer 69A, washer 69, and dryer 70 and is attended to by third robot 63. Storage facilities 81 can be provided anywhere there is space available.
  • [0153]
    The exemplary dimensions of the controlled manufacturing system shown in the Figure is 34 feet by 30 feet, although the specific dimensions of the system will vary depending on the specific embodiment of the invention.
  • [0154]
    FIG. 7 illustrates sample transit times during preparation of a pair of jeans in an exemplary embodiment of the invention. Line segment 1 totals approximately 430 seconds; line segment 2 totals approximately 540 seconds; and line segment 3 totals approximately 120 seconds, thereby totaling 1090 seconds, or about 18.2 minutes. These transit times indicate the approximate time it takes to move a garment or component thereof from one manufacturing machine to the next and do not include finishing such as washing, drying, ironing, or distressing.
  • [0155]
    FIG. 8 illustrates an exemplary architecture of a centralized command and control network system 100 for directing programmable garment manufacturing equipment in accordance with the present invention. The command and control system comprises a central controller 107 which is networked over a network connection 106 to a plurality of local controllers 104, and each local controller controls its respective programmable manufacturing machine 105. The central controller issues machine commands or machine instructions for each of the manufacturing equipment over the network to the local controllers so that the manufacturing equipment can prepare the personalized custom-fit garment as desired by the customer. The robotic manipulators 63 are also controlled by the central controller over the network connection, and each robotic manipulator is assigned a particular line segment 101, 102, or 103.
  • [0156]
    The centralized command and control system utilizes CNC instruction sets to direct the programmable manufacturing equipment. The CNC instruction sets 116 are generated from data from a number of different sources: data input by the seller 112; a three-dimensional point cloud 114 obtained by the three-dimensional body scan of a customer 111 as well as the customer's fit, style, and personalization preferences and custom feature selection; and stitch rules and raw two-dimensional pattern data 115 corresponding to a digital garment design submitted by a designer of the associated designer community 113.
  • [0157]
    FIG. 9 illustrates robotic movement of pattern pieces through a workflow in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the invention. Each robotic manipulator 63 attends to its assigned manufacturing line segment 101, 102, or 103.
  • [0158]
    The invention can be configured so that the manufacturing equipment manufactures a single garment at a time. Alternatively, the invention can be configured so that the manufacturing equipment prepares more than one garment in parallel. That is, as soon as one robotic manipulator completes its manufacturing line segment and passes its garment to the next robotic manipulator, it starts immediately working on next garment in the queue. Alternatively, multiple sections of a garment can be in simultaneous production at multiple machines in the production flow, rather than having the garment transit through each machine sequentially. Such embodiments allow for a reduction in cycle time so that the robotic manipulators are not idle and increase manufacturing throughput.
  • [0159]
    FIGS. 10 and 11 illustrate fabric stitching machines equipped with optical vision system or cameras for detecting fiducial marks, and handling and sewing the fabric using the fiducial marks as guides. FIG. 10 shows a sewing machine 151 equipped with sensors 152 to identify fiduciary markings on the workpiece 150 to provide status, progress, and metrology feedback to the digital control system. The optical vision system can employ one or more passive electro-optical sensors in visible or non-visible wavelengths (such as UV or infrared) or both to identify fiducial lines or natural patterns for sewing. A closed-loop vision feedback system in coordination with the material handling and sewing machines allows for precise local position control.
  • [0160]
    FIG. 11 shows a robotic manipulator having arms 153 moving a workpiece 150 through a guidance fixture 154 to a sewing machine 151 equipped with optical vision sensors 152. The guidance fixture facilitates automated material handling and enables an imprecisely placed piece of fabric or garment to be accurately fed into a sewing or stitching machine. The specific configuration of the guidance fixture 154 will vary depending on the garment and manufacturing step.
  • [0161]
    FIG. 12 illustrates an embodiment of a fabric gripper which employs vacuum to hold fabric during preparation of a garment. The fabric gripper 170 has a plurality of arms 170 and each arm has a vacuum gripper element 172. Upon activation of the vacuum, the fabric 156 can be lifted and moved to a desired location, after which the vacuum will be disconnected and the fabric gripper removed. In another embodiment of the invention (not illustrated), the fabric gripper may be a pin gripper.
  • [0162]
    FIG. 13 illustrates exemplary programmable manufacturing equipment and material handling equipment for use in preparation of a pair of jeans in accordance with an exemplary embodiment of the present invention. The programmable equipment includes stitching and sewing machines, fabric management hardware such as fabric spreaders and fixtures for precise stitching, and finishing equipment such as washers and dryers. Each of the manufacturing and material handling equipment is controlled by the centralized control system, thereby avoiding the need for human intervention and manual labor during the manufacture.
  • [0163]
    FIG. 14 illustrates an exemplary sequence of computer instructions for stitching a pair of jeans and the corresponding amount of time in seconds for each step. Each of the computer sequence steps in the Figure is converted to machine instructions by the centralized control system. The machine instructions are then implemented by the respective manufacturing and material handling equipment at the appropriate time when preparing the desired garment.
  • [0164]
    Other objects, advantages and embodiments of the various aspects of the present invention will be apparent to those who are skilled in the field of the invention and are within the scope of the description and the accompanying Figures. For example, but without limitation, structural or functional elements might be rearranged, or method steps reordered, consistent with the present invention. Similarly, a machine may comprise a single instance or a plurality of machines, such plurality possibly encompassing multiple types of machines which together provide the indicated function. The machine types described in various embodiments are not meant to limit the possible types of machines that may be used in embodiments of aspects of the present invention, and other machines that may accomplish similar tasks may be implemented as well. Similarly, principles according to the present invention, and methods and systems that embody them, could be applied to other examples, which, even if not specifically described here in detail, would nevertheless be within the scope of the present invention.

Claims (24)

    What is claimed is:
  1. 1. An automated system for the production of a personalized custom-fit garment, the system comprising:
    (a) a scanner configured for obtaining a scan comprising a three-dimensional model of a customer's body shape;
    (b) a computer comprising:
    (i) memory,
    (ii) an input device,
    (iii) a processor,
    (iv) a network connection, and
    (v) a computer-readable storage medium having non-transitory computer instruction code comprising:
    (a) sizing algorithms for extracting sizing parameters from the customer's body shape scan and parametrically scaling a selected digital garment design pattern to the customer's body shape;
    (b) customization algorithms for enabling a customer to select and incorporate fit and style preferences into the digital pattern; and
    (c) visualization algorithms for visualizing in real time the drape and fit of the garment design pattern around a digital representation of the customer's body shape derived from the scanner, and for allowing the customer to interact with and modify design parameters; and
    (c) a database comprising a set of digital design patterns contributed by an online designer community; and
    (d) an automated garment manufacturing system comprising manufacturing equipment and material handling equipment networked to a central controller.
  2. 2. The system according to claim 1, wherein the scanner is a non-contact body scanner which generates a three-dimensional representation of the customer's body shape.
  3. 3. The system according to claim 3, wherein the scanner is a white light scanner, structured white light scanner, eye-safe laser scanner, or a millimeter wave imaging scanner.
  4. 4. The system according to claim 1, wherein the storage medium further comprises non-transitory computer instruction code comprising nesting algorithms configured for minimizing fabric waste by optimizing arrangement of pattern pieces on the fabric prior to cutting the pattern pieces from the fabric.
  5. 5. The system according to claim 1, wherein a digital pattern comprises one or more parameters selected from the group consisting of:
    (a) a three-dimensional digital geometry of the pattern;
    (b) an extrapolated two-dimensional design;
    (c) garment sewing and assembly machine instructions;
    (d) fabric type and fabric orientation parameters; and
    (e) choice and placement of finishes and hardware.
  6. 6. The system according to claim 5, wherein the finishes and hardware are selected from the group consisting of specialty washes, specialty fabric dyes, rivets, buttons, zippers, snaps, hooks, hook-and-loop fasteners, elastic bands, stitch styles and spacings, custom labels, and embroidery.
  7. 7. The system according to claim 1, wherein:
    (a) the sizing algorithms extract sizing parameters from a three-dimensional point cloud obtained from the customer's body scan, and
    (b) the algorithms for parametrically scaling the digital pattern adjust the fit of the garment to the customer's body shape and size.
  8. 8. The system according to claim 1, wherein the customization algorithms are configured for incorporating one or more customer preferences selected from the group consisting of:
    (a) fabric and fabric color selection;
    (b) thread selection;
    (c) choice of customized hardware;
    (d) embroidery selection and placement;
    (e) label placement or absence thereof;
    (f) design element placement or repositioning; and
    (g) choice of customized finishes.
  9. 9. The system according to claim 1, wherein the visualization algorithms are configured for:
    (a) creating a digital avatar of a customer, the digital avatar providing a three-dimensional representation of the customer's body shape;
    (b) visualizing a selected digital pattern around the digital avatar;
    (c) visualizing fabric draping and fit of the selected digital pattern on the digital avatar; and
    (d) retaining customer modifications of drape and fit in the digital pattern for use by the customer in subsequent orders.
  10. 10. A method for creating a personalized custom-fit garment, the method comprising the steps of:
    (a) obtaining three-dimensional body measurements of a customer using a non-contact whole-body scanner;
    (b) providing the customer with a plurality of digital garment designs from which the customer may select a particular garment design, the digital garment designs obtained from an associated community of designers;
    (c) adapting the selected design to the customer's body measurements to obtain a customized design;
    (d) incorporating customer style and fit preferences in the customized design to obtain a personalized custom-fit design;
    (e) generating a digital pattern for a garment based on the personalized custom-fit design; and
    (f) manufacturing the personalized custom-fit garment from the digital pattern using an automated manufacturing process.
  11. 11. The method according to claim 10, further comprising the steps of:
    (d1) displaying a dimensionally-accurate three-dimensional representation of the personalized custom-fit design in real time to a customer, and rapidly updating the three-dimensional representation as the customer selects style and fit preferences.
  12. 12. The method according to claim 10, further comprising the steps of:
    (g) storing the customer's three-dimensional body measurements in a database for subsequent orders; and
    (h) preparing subsequent personalized custom-fit garments in accordance with steps (b)-(f) using the stored body measurements.
  13. 13. The method according to claim 10, further comprising periodically refreshing the digital garment designs with replacement designs.
  14. 14. The method according to claim 10, further comprising offering a customer an incentive to rescan the customer's body and obtain updated three-dimensional body measurements at a pre-determined time or upon passage of a pre-determined period of time.
  15. 15. The method according to claim 10, further comprising linking a customer's profile to an online or store account, and providing the customer with an incentive to rescan the customer's body using information obtained from the linked account.
  16. 16. The method according to claim 10, wherein the garment is a pair of jeans, a pair of pants, shirt, blouse, vest, suit, dress, skirt, undergarment, or hat.
  17. 17. The method according to claim 10, wherein total garment manufacturing time is about an hour.
  18. 18. The method according to claim 10, wherein the members of the associated designer community communicate via a website.
  19. 19. The method according to claim 18, wherein the website:
    (a) provides a discussion forum and online tools and software to designers for creation of digital design patterns;
    (b) encourages collaboration, sharing, and co-design of digital design patterns; and
    (c) provides features to enable prize-based design competitions, display of design popularity and usage statistics, and design and designer peer reputation scores.
  20. 20. The method according to claim 10, further comprising paying a royalty to a designer of a digital design pattern upon a customer's selection of the designer's digital design pattern.
  21. 21. The method according to claim 10, wherein a customer style preference is a choice of fabric and fabric direction.
  22. 22. The method according to claim 21, wherein the fabric is manufactured from woven or non-woven natural fibers, synthetic fibers, or a combination thereof.
  23. 23. The method according to claim 21, wherein the fabric is selected from the group consisting of denim, cotton, linen, wool, silk, rayon, polyester, nylon, Lycra, and combinations and blends thereof.
  24. 24. The method according to claim 10, wherein the garment is manufactured by three-dimensional printing, additive manufacturing, adhesive bonding, or knitting.
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