How can we rethink garment disassembly processes to reduce textile waste?

CISUTAC is an EU co-funded initiative that has made its mission the increased circularity of clothing and textiles. One aspect of textile circularity is the disassembly and sorting of materials in order to extend their value in new applications. As a proud member of the CISUTAC consortium, PCH took on the challenge of developing new processes and tools to aid the disassembly of particularly complex, mixed-component apparel: protective workwear.

With our disassembly station, we engineered a modular, semi-automated pipeline to facilitate the pre-recycling break down of used firefighter suits and help retrieve higher volumes of valuable materials such as aramid. By laying the technical groundwork for scaling disassembly operations with the EU's textile value chains, we hope to reinforce the path to a more circular economy.

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Putting things into context.

Disassembly forms an important part of a larger process to recycle valuable materials from firefighter suits. In order to increase their technical and commercial value, it is imperative to maximize the fiber length of the recycled yarns. With this in mind, PCH set about developing a workstation that optimized the recovery of pure aramid cloth pieces that could then be mechanically processed into reusable fibers.

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Constraining the challenge.

After studying the multi-layered firefighter jacket construction and lengthy disassembly processes, we identified two key points of improvement: The segmentation of the suit into smaller, workable pieces and the removal of the (currently) unrecycleable reflective strips.

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The solution.

Building on the pain-points identified in our research phase, we decided to develop an adaptable, semi-automated disassembly station that combines ergonomics with efficiency. Made up of two primary modules, we designed the station around an optimized workflow, starting with automatic weighing of the garments, and concluding with a seamless sorting and weighing of the recovered material.

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The cutting unit.

After identifying the best contours along which to cut the garments, we then designed a custom, easy-to-use cutting machine. Mounted within the tabletop, the operator only has to position the garment along the defined segmentation lines and feed it through the machine, and within 4 minutes cutting is complete.

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The application removal unit.

For the pieces of material that have reflective strips sewn onto them, we designed a machine that uses computer vision to recognize the location of the strips and automatically cut through their seams without damaging the fabric below. Once retrieved, the operator can use the table-mounted clamp and hand tools to remove the extraneous strips and place the salvaged material into the sorting bins below.

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Impact in numbers

The disassembly station was able to achieve an output of 10 kilograms of aramid per hour, a substantial improvement over current manual methods, which typically recover 1-2 kilograms per hour. This represents a 500% increase.

"This disassembly station reduces the complexity inherent in PPE recycling to its essence. An automated cutting unit for speed, an AI-powered removal unit for component detection, and human handling for accessibility, are combined in a system that’s remarkably simple to use and adapt."

– Adrien Hobt, Managing Director at PCH

Key Innovations

A bespoke, high-powered cutting machine for dividing larger garments into smaller, workable pieces.

Key Features

  • Flush tabletop integration with spring-loaded belt system for fabric intake
  • Conductive sensor in all metal parts for safety stop through skin contact
  • Control panel with START/STOP and E-Stop buttons, adjustable transport speed
  • Easy disassembly for quick maintenance, including blade exchange, sharpening, and oiling without disassembly

An automated seam detection and cutting system for easy removal of non-valuable material strips.

Key Features

  • Automatic detection and initiation of seam opening procedure for reflective stripes
  • Continuous transport system for non-stop garment feeding and workflow efficiency
  • High-speed linear axis with specialized blades for precise targeting and opening of seams
  • Combines high efficiency and accuracy in garment disassembly, optimizing preparation for recycling or further processing

Find out more

As the demand for recycling post-consumer textile waste continues to grow, we see the units becoming increasingly valuable to stakeholders across the textile value chain – from recyclers to collectors and fashion brands looking to galvanize their recycling initiatives. To find out more about our other circular re-manufacturing offerings get in touch with Adrien Hobt.