The Anonymous Widower

Will Innovative Engineering Solve The PPE Gown Problem?

In the early 1970s, I worked as a programmer for various consultancies, who were doing innovative engineering. In one, which could have been Cambridge Consultants, where I worked for perhaps three months. One guy told me about a project he was working on, that was the automatic assembly of clothing.

I know more than a bit about making clothes, as my mother taught me how to knit, crochet, sew and use a sewing machine. In the early years of our marriage, I used to make dresses for C and in one instance, I made her a long heavy-weight winter coat.

So I am surprised, that innovative engineering has not come together to make hospital gowns automatically!

Let’s hope that some engineers have seen the gap in the market, and as I write, are putting together a machine, where you put material in one end and get gowns out the other. Neatly folded of course!

April 19, 2020 - Posted by | Health | , , , ,


  1. Most automatic clothing assembly efforts cannot yet compete with scaled up factory, especially at the cut stage, where the fabric is cut in multiple ply at the same time (10 or more), sometimes by hand with special power tools, sometimes by machine. (Exception to test the rule is knitwear especially ugly patterened jumpers which have panels knitted on computerised looms, a worldwide specialty in Leicester and environs; these still need hand final assembly of stretchy parts, fabric not really suitable for PPE)

    Such factories don’t take a lot of space, and can send out kits of cut parts for honeworkers (could be volunteers) to sew up on domestic machibes. Organising this in the uk to step up capacity is what is needed, the flaw is limited fabric mill capacity in UK (would need bolt imports from India/Asia, 1 week by air, 3-4 by rail from China through Russia, 6-8 by sea).

    Comment by MilesT | April 19, 2020 | Reply

    • I read somewhere yesterday, that a Scottish company; Dun and Low have come up with a new non-woven fabric for gowns. But I didn’t bookmark it and can’t find it today.

      That would surely solve the fabric problem.

      Perhaps too, someone will come up with a better design of gown, that is more protective, comfortable and faster and easier to manufacture.

      Are some of our excellent fashion designers are working with clinical staff on that problem?

      Comment by AnonW | April 19, 2020 | Reply

  2. Some of the automatic machine will cut 100+ layers at a time. The problem is making sure all the design on the fabric – flowers or shapes etc exactly positioned so each garment looks the same. For a few months years ago, I worked for a a couple of months in a garment factory. I remember a batch of dresses, in a horrible shade of brown with yellow triangles on it. They were impossible to accurately sew with the triangles matching.

    The problem with non-woven fabrics is that they often need to have a particular type of needle so sew them, because the fabric can give way and rip where the needle holes are. Unless you add a binding over the seams, which adds to the cost, and to the skills needed by the machinist.

    I have considered making scrubs, there are schemes in my area, but I decided against it, as some clothing companies are doing this now. The government has missed a trick – the machinists at Laura Ashley would be very well able to sew scrubs, are fast workers because they are paid peace work rates, and if the government had shored them up when they were going into liquidation, they could have turned out very many, very quickly. With the ready cut fabric, a decent machinist on an industrial machine could turn out a batch of then in about 3 hours at most, and they would be overlocked and mock felled seams. Or fully felled if they have automatic felling machines.

    Comment by nosnikrapzil | April 19, 2020 | Reply

    • To be sure there are some fabric mills in the UK that might be able to rapidly switch, given the right thread/yarns. I’m thinking John Lewis (furnishing fabric) and the silk mills near Sudbury. Needs some coordination

      Comment by MilesT | April 20, 2020 | Reply

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