New £4 million micro-scale robotic fashion production facility to develop high-value, low volume UK garment industry

16 May 2023

The ‘Robotics Living Lab’ will explore more sustainable approaches for fashion manufacturing

A new fashion research facility to help support micro-scale fashion businesses using robotic technologies for more sustainable production is being developed at Manchester Fashion Institute at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The Robotics Living Lab (RoLL), which was awarded £3.8m by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to build and equip the new facility, will enable new research into highly responsive sustainable approaches for UK garment manufacturers.

Fashion researchers, designers and manufacturers will be able to use RoLL to collaborate and make use of robotic technologies with a focus on creating high-value, low-volume fashion production in the UK.

RoLL will conceive, test, and develop new tooling solutions – creating new stitching, cutting, pressing and repair tools - to support small fashion design businesses in using innovative manufacturing processes for more sustainable production.

The facility will also encourage new forms of research partnerships, enable fashion research to inform policy on carbon neutral manufacturing, and support Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s 2038 target for net zero manufacturing.

The funding was announced by Science and Technology Secretary Chloe Smith as part of £103m investment into digital research and infrastructure.

Major renovations by Manchester Fashion Institute will see two office spaces repurposed and equipped for the Robotics Living Lab which will be comprised of a robotics lab and a work in progress (WIP) space, due to be completed by summer 2024.

Susan Postlethwaite, Professor of Fashion at Manchester Fashion Institute and Director of RoLL said: “I am delighted to have this funding from AHRC to facilitate the building and equipping of RoLL. The lab will enable fashion designers and manufacturers to work together using cutting edge technology. This will impact hugely on micro and SME businesses and together we will be able to impact positively on the industry.

“I am very much looking forward to the build being completed and being able to occupy the spaces in the lab with a new and growing team of fashion and product designers, engineers, and social science researchers.” 

The lab will be equipped with ‘cobots’ - collaborative robots designed to work alongside humans, with new end effector tools – devices used by cobots to perform a task.

These tools will be designed in collaboration with fellows of a co design residency programme to develop interchangeable stitching, cutting, pressing and repair tools.

Development of design software for pattern cutting and garment construction sequencing will also allow for digitally enhanced design and manufacturing to take place.  

Situated in a visible and prominent space within the Fashion Institute, RoLL and the research it will undertake will be accessible to fashion students and researchers at the University alongside small businesses.

RoLL will challenge the way fashion is traditionally made and lead the way in helping to transform a sustainable future for the fashion manufacturing industry.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is investing £103 million to expand and upgrade the UK’s world class research infrastructure, including digital infrastructure. The investments will support the sector and ensure UK researchers have access to the best labs and equipment they need to keep producing world-class research and innovation.

MP Chloe Smith, Science and Technology Secretary, said: “Our world-class science and technology sectors are the engine room for growth in the UK economy, and the basis for scientific and technological advancements that will improve everyone’s lives.

“These sectors need continued, concerted and concentrated backing from the government and I am determined to provide it during my time as Science and Technology Secretary, through funding such as this, which will ensure our world class labs have the infrastructure and equipment to match their status.”

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