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The University of Southampton

Software to automate factories, could save garment manufacturers millions

Published: 27 October 2003

Researchers at the University of Southampton have been awarded an EPSRC grant for a three-year research project to devise a mathematical tool to improve efficiency in the garment manufacturing industry.

The No Fit Polygon (NFP), a powerful geometric concept that has been used by researchers to develop software so that garment manufacturers can minimise waste material during the production process, is to be further developed so that it operates more effectively.

In the mid-1990s one major jeans manufacturer claimed a 0.1 per cent saving on material would translate to a US $2 million saving per year and the researchers believe that development of this tool will help industry to realise these savings. Although the NFP as it exists is an effective tool in facilitating the creation of automated material 'markers' and reducing wastage, the process of obtaining them is complicated.

Dr Julia Bennell from the Management Science Research Group at the University of Southampton and a team from the School of Computer Science and Information Technology at the University of Nottingham set out to draw up a proposal to create a toolbox of robust NFP algorithms to create more efficient software for garment manufacturers.

"Speed and flexibility are becoming increasingly important for industry," comments Dr Bennell. "We noticed that although technology has made considerable contributions to the efficiency of the process, the creation of the 'marker' is still very time consuming. We saw that we needed to reduce the human input and let the technology work."

They decided that they needed a toolbox of robust algorithms that would allow the markers to be produced in an automated way. They found that one of the reasons that computer software struggled to compete with humans is due to the difficulty in recognising overlap. The research team plan to devise algorithms to overcome this difficulty. They will also apply this algorithm to robots to allow them to navigate their way around the factory.

Notes for editors

The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University, which celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 2002, has 20,000 students and over 4,500 staff and plays an important role in the City of Southampton. Its annual turnover is in the region of £235 million.

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