I have recently been reading a lot about the innovations happening around the world in the garment industry. One thought that struck me was in the field of sewing. Are there other, more plausible, cost-effective and quality assuring methods that can replace sewing in this industry? Well, this article is an attempt to throw some light on one such method that can be an alternative to sewing in the garment industry.
Sewing is the most commonly used method for joining fabrics or garment parts in the garment industry. There have been many attempts in the past for finding out the most suitable replacement for sewing. But none of them match the flexibility, appearance, and performance achieved through sewing. Still, the scientists keep searching for new alternative techniques to join fabrics.
One of the alternatives is Welding. In this technique, heat and pressure are applied to the seams of the fabric to fuse them together, thus making a sealed formation. Fabric welding is done with the help of a variety of heat sealing machines. Thermoplastic coatings such as polypropylene (PP), polyvinylchloride (PVC) and polyethylene (PE) are used for heat sealing.
What is the process followed in welding?
The basic steps in welding include:
1. Heat application on fabric
2. Melting of thermoplastic materials
3. Applying pressure on melted area
4. Creation of bonding
6. Joining of the fabric
The process of welding differs in how the heat is applied. When a joint is made, a clamping force causes a heating effect at the interface of the 2 materials which give rise to a welded bond. This is similar to the most basic type of welding we know that is used to weld metals, plastic, glass, etc
What are the types of welding that can be used in the garment industry?
In this process, the fabric moves continuously through the welding area and pulled by drive wheels. The heat is sent through a source just before it passes through the drive wheels. Pressure is applied after this which seals the fabric permanently.
Although Rotary welding needs skilled-labour and well-trained operators, it is a fast process and can weld up to 6 mtr of fabric in a minute. It can be of very good use in manufacturing 3-dimensional products like bags, boats etc.
In this process, Ultrasonic waves (frequencies) are administered to the fabric from the horn of the welding machine. This frequency generates heat within the fibers at the point of the joint site, causing the polymers to join and form a bond.
Welding with the ultrasonic method is probably the most diverse of its applications. It is used for the manufacture of protective clothing, outdoor garments, lingerie, filters etc. Since ultrasonic welding creates impermeable seams, clothing worn around a contaminated environment such as a hospital or a laboratory shields the person from harm. This impermeable seam can also play a great role in the manufacture of parachutes, boat sails etc.
On the contrary, not all the fabrics can be welded by ultrasonic welding. Welding is limited to a specific thickness of fabric as it may harm the outside surface of the fabric before bonding with it. Especially in the case of sheer fabrics, this might be a big problem.
The principle of laser welding is simple: A laser beam heats up the metal or thermoplastic so intensely that it melts in places and the materials become fused. Laser welding is the best method in order to create seams of high quality and better reproducibility. It is ideal for woven fabrics made of polyester or polyamide. Generally, diode lasers and CO2 lasers are used in the process which works on different wavelengths.
The most important part of laser welding is that it does not damage the exterior of the fabric which creates a seamless effect. Laser-welded seams are extremely flat, elastic, and skin-friendly. Since laser welding does not require adhesives of any kind, it is also especially environmentally friendly due to the recycling process.
What are the advantages of Welding?
The welding process proves beneficial to the garment industry in many ways not only because of its durability but, also the quality.
- Welding is beneficial in the manufacturing mainly because it gives sealed edges and seams. Also since there are no stitch holes and no penetration into the fabric, it also makes the product aesthetically appealing. This provides welding an extra edge over sewing
- It also provides a consistent and permanent seal to the garment, unlike sewing. The thread in the sewn garments can suffer tension problems and could break whereas the welding process welds the fabric evenly making an air-tight bond
- Welding can be used to create durable, abrasion resistant and water-tight garments for various purposes. It can be also be used to tackle problems like thickness variation of the fabric and joining tight or small corners
- No external heating material or element is needed in this process. This makes it a cost-effective method as compared to other joining methods (moulding, adhesives, fusing etc.)
- Since there is no requirement of needle or thread used in the process, a large amount of material and waste is reduced. There is no threat of thread deterioration time or needle breakage
So, is welding an alternative to sewing?
No matter how productive, cost saving and time-saving the process of welding might be, it cannot replace sewing for all kind of applications. Some fabrics cannot be processed due to the presence of certain colorants or additives.
Despite the numerous advantages over sewing, welding doesn’t prove to be much economical for an organization. The initial financial layout for the machinery and the time and expertise to train staff can be both timeconsuming and expensive.
Also, high level of accuracy is needed from the operator in the process of welding because once the process is completed, it is difficult to alter or repair the garment. More usage of welding method in the garment industry will also affect the thread industry as most of the garment manufacturing is done using threads and needles. Although welding is a costlier production method compared to sewing, the cost may come down in future with the new advancements in technology.
Welding as a method for garment bonding may prove to be of great benefit to the garment industry in the future. Smart technology and wearable technology need a lot of work in terms of awareness building and information provision.The global garment industry mostly works on sewing when it comes to manufacturing a garment. There is always a lot of struggle involved in terms of adapting such complex and intricate methods and taking them to the next level.