ABM International Innova AutoPilot Report

Well, I just got back from Houston, TX, where I spent a day at ABM International working with the Innova and their AutoPilot robotic quilting system.  Here are my impressions and thoughts (my apologies for no pictures; the ones I took turned out all fuzzy).

The innova machine itself looks to be the next generation in quilting machine design.  For example: the only place that you oil is in the bobbin mechanism — everything in the sewing head itself is sealed and requires no oil!  No more adding 3-15 drops in multiple places every few hours.  It is also very tolerant of different threads.  My Tin Lizzie 18LS simply cannot handle Superior “Lava” thread — I think it is too smooth, and develops loops on the backside of the quilt.  We went through most of Superior’s standard quilting threads: King Tut, Rainbows, Lava, Poly Quilter, and a few others — the machine handled everything.  The one time the thread broke was when it was improperly wound on the cone; not the machine’s fault.  The stitch speed regulator is fantastic — it will go up to 3000 (stitches per minute? rpm?) before you overwhelm the stitch regulator.  Compared to the Tin Lizzie, where you have to go relatively slow to stay within the stitch regulator’s capacity, I could not go too fast for the Innova.  It will sew quickly and well.  The ecording system is pretty dramatic when you see it; I’m not sure of the uses for it yet in my business, but will definitely be an add-on at some point.  Machine-wise, this is a great value for your money; better than Tin Lizzie, Homesteader, Voyager, Handiquilter, or the OEM’ed Pfaff and Babylock systems that just came on the market.
Frame:  The frame is all-steel, and has a couple of unique qualities: First, the pick-up roller is elevated above the quilt (there is another roller directly beneath it — see the picts on their webpage for a better description) — effectively, this means that the quilt bed itself is always perfectly parallel, and you do not have to keep on raising and lowering the pick-up roller to allow for the increasing roll of the quilt.  You could add up a large time-savings just with that.  A couple of features that I found more interesting than I expected: the electric quilt advance is actually very useful for loading and advancing your quilt with excellent tension.  It moves slowly enough that you can smooth the backing on as it loads, and use a touch of advance to control the backing tension as you move the quilt around.  It’s actually very nice — much more useful than just being easier to advance the quilt.  They are also offering electric channel locks controlled by a remote, which will save a lot of time when doing crosshatching or basting.

Okay, now to the AutoPilot robotic program.  The program is running on an HP touch-smart all-in-one computer; you could probably also run it on a non-touch screen computer.  The advantage to the all-in-one system is saving all the messy cords running around.  The actual robotic motor system sits under the frame out of the way.  The carriage runs on two x-direction belts and one y-direction belt, all of which can be disconnected in about a minute total.  Freehanding on the system works very nicely; I did not notice the drag when the machine was off the belts.  You could do some basic straight-line stitching while the machine is connected to the robot, but I doubt you could freehand since the belts are so tight.  The program is encoder-based; you set the quilt area by marking the upper-left and lower-right corners, and off you go.  The autopilot can import .dxf files or their proprietary .pat file.  The stitch quality is _very_ good; the robotic system controls the speed of the head based on the complexity of the pattern.  This can save significant time when stitching open, flowing designs, yet doesn’t lose quality when the pattern hits and intricate point.  The software has all of the basic features that you would want.  There are a number of things still in the works — one very important point to make is that their hardware and software engineering support and development are all in-house; the company is very excited about the new system and is eager to add-in new features to the software.  I think that the software will rapidly over-take Statler’s capabilities, since they are continually upgrading the software and talking to the actual quilters.

Summary:  this is a system you should look at if you are wanting a top-of-the-line quilting system with robotic capability.  There are unique features that you cannot find on other systems, and an active development group to continue to improve the software base.  ABM will be at a number of shows this year; I recommend you check them out!


25 Responses to ABM International Innova AutoPilot Report

  1. Diane Cox says:

    Jeanne: Hello! I am a new owner (6 mos.) of a Tin Lizzie 18 (not LS)and found out that the new shirley stitcher only works with the tin lizzie 18LS. I was thinking about the pcquilter for my machine. Do you happen to know if the pcquilter will work with a lizzie that is not LS? I only do personal quilting for myself and my mom. I have enjoyed reading your blog. It is VERY informative!

    • quiltingbyjeanne says:

      Hi Diane,

      I do know that the Tin Lizzie 18 works with the PCQuilter — it is a very good, cost effective way to get into computer quilting. In fact, if all works out, I might be selling my PCQuilter SM for a very small amount of money if I upgrade to the Innova…

  2. Diane Cox says:

    I will be keeping an eye on your blog…..!

  3. Margie Kallmayer says:

    Thanks for the very informative review of the Auto Pilot. It is the first time anyone has ever done a write up on it and I am glad to see a positive review. I look forward to seeing it at the Dallas Quilt Show in March.

  4. yola says:

    Hi Jeanne,
    I am from South Africa and am interested in purchasing a LAQ. I found your blog as I was looking for info on the Tin Lizzie, very interesting and informative! In SA the only LAQ that has dealership (as far as I could find out), is the TL. I see that you are currently using TL, but is very impressed with the Innova. Could you perhaps give me advice? Is the TL a good machine? You have used yours for quite a few years now? I saw on other websites a few people have had issues withe the machine? Could you please help me? It is extremely costly to import anything to SA from USA therefore I would preer to buy from local dealer. BUT if machine has problems/ issues, then perhaps I should reconsider. It is big expense for me to buy LAQ (in SA rands anyway). I want to start home busieness and have to start right. Sorry for the long post. Any info will be GREATLY appreciated!! Thanx, Yola

    • quiltingbyjeanne says:

      Hi Yola,

      It all depends on how much money you want to spend. The Tin Lizzie is a good starting machine — I am upgrading to the Innova for two reasons: (a) the 18″ throat is not enough if your clients give you very large blocks (15″ or on point) and you want to quilt the entire block in one go. (b) the stitch regulator on the Lizzie tops out at a lower speed than the Innova — this means that if you really get going on your free-motion quilting, you can out-speed the stitch regulator and your stitch length will increase. The Innova tops out at a much higher speed — I was not able to out-speed that machine. I would recommend you go to your dealer and see how the stitch regulator works at your quilting speed — if your “natural” freehand speed meets the Tin Lizzie, then you are likely good to go. If not, it may be worth importing, even at the higher price.

      Good luck! Jeanne

  5. yola says:

    Thanx for the info Jeanne!!
    It seems I will have to fly to Durban (where the dealer is) asap…
    I am excited and terrified at the same time re trying LAQ as business. It is still very new in SA. BUT, I think I should follow my heart and try it.
    Thanx again!
    I will continue reading your blog to see when you upgrade…

  6. yola says:

    Oh, I forgot to mention, Tin Lizzie 18LS sells here for about R100 000 (approx $10 000) incl import costs.
    I presume that the Innova will be much more?

  7. quiltingbyjeanne says:

    Actually, the 18″ Innova is competitive in price to the Tin Lizzie 18LS.

  8. yola says:

    thanx Jeanne, I’m gonna try and contact Innova and get a quote!

  9. Sherry says:

    Hi Jeanne. I have a LA business using the original TL & have been very happy with it until recently. I have had it for 2+ yrs & recently my switch broke, so I am dead in the water with quilts pilling up and lost jobs since I can tell the coustomer when I can do their quilts. TL had me send the controller (& SR)to Liten Up in Illinois & they have had it for over 2 weeks. I am very frustrated and frankly out of business until they get it back to me. I saw the Innova yesterday at a quilt show and was very impressed with the 26″. The people there would knowledgable about the machinbe, but could not answer many questions about the computer system & what patterns it can download. I appreciate your feedback on the Innova from you visit there. Do you know 1) how many patterns come with the system 2)which companies offer patterns that can be downloaded into Innova? Also, how user friendly is the computer system? I would love to have a computerized system now or at least be able to add one at a later time. Thanks so much for posting info about this sytem. It has been very helpful.

    • quiltingbyjeanne says:

      The Innova people have made serious progress since I went and saw their machine in January. Most importantly, they are now supplying Pro-Q Designer with every computerized system, which means that you can purchase designs from anyone in any format, and convert it to the Innova system. Personally, I like http://www.quiltrecipes.com — their patterns are cheap, and you can get a subscription service which gets you a number of patterns a month for only $28. I doubt the machine itself comes with many patterns — most don’t. I think the system is very user-friendly; once I get enough money, I’m going to get their Innova 26″ and computerized system myself!

      • Jeanie Dodd says:

        Do you know how Auto Pilot compares to MQR?

      • quiltingbyjeanne says:

        I’ve used both. If you can’t afford the AutoPilot, the MQR is a great second option. The main difference between the two is that you can tell on the computer screen where your sewing head is in relation to the quilt, which is a huge help in placing patterns. That’s the main cost differential (with some other things). If you can afford it, get the AutoPilot; if you can’t, you will be happy with the MQR.

  10. Karen says:

    Thanks for your take on the Innova – I went to the Ft. Laud. show this weekend and was impressed – have been looking for a longarm for 4 years now – I like the fact that the Innova has a 26″ for the same price as the Gammil 18″. Also the lack of oiling is terrific. This would be my first longarm – I have been reading about the mid armed Pfaff GrandQuilter and it seems that the bloggers have so many problems with birdnesting, thread breakage, etc. I am looking for easy and fun! Please let me know if you feel the Innova would be a good purchase for a beginner. Thanks so much! Karen in Fort Lauderdale,.

    • quiltingbyjeanne says:

      In case anyone was wondering, Pfaff OEM’ed the Tin Lizzie as their Pfaff Grand Quilter. It is exactly the same, except that Pfaff added in the connections for their QBot (which, as far as I can tell, is an extremely inferior system). If you like the Grand Quilter, try and find a Tin Lizzie dealer and see if they will beat your price. Regardless, I’m selling my Tin Lizzie 18LS (anyone interested?) and will move up to the Innova 26″ system.

  11. Lesley says:

    Hi Jeanne
    I was looking for a site to compare gammill with other LAQs and came across your blog. I found it very interesting as I have not heard of the Innova. I am looking to start up my own LAQ business. Can you point me to some good sites that will assist me with how to go about doing this? I appreciate your time with this.

    • quiltingbyjeanne says:

      You might start with http://www.longarmuniversity.com if you would like some basics. I would also highly recommend going to a machine-quilting convention, such as innovations (www.mqinnovations.com) or MQS (www.imqa.org). You’ll get the best “how to ramp up a business” at these conventions.

  12. Barbara says:

    Brought the Tin Lizzie LS18 w/ Shirley Sticher. I’ve had it for 6 months and the software has not work yet. They should test out all patterns before selling. I have mess up quilt tops. My dealer has tried to help, but as Tin Lizzie did not train the dealer. Has anyone else purchase this $7000 piece of crap??????

    • quiltingbyjeanne says:

      I haven’t heard much good about the Shirley Stitcher — I wasn’t impressed when I saw it at Innovations last year. You might consider the Machine Quilting Robot, which is a drastically better system. I’m selling my MQR for the Tin Lizzie for $4000 (upgraded PCQuilter version) — let me know if you’re interested!


    • Don says:


      I also bought the tin lizzie 18ls with Shirley Stitcher II. I felt the same as you. It did not work, the software did not work. I was lucky and was able to get in touch with the people that made it. There is an upgrade to the soft ware. I have tried the upgrade and it is a joy to use now. The upgrade is supposed to be out in a couple of weeks. They are also making a DVD. I have not found any operating manual. Had I not got in touch with the person I did I probably would have sent mine back. I have done about 15 quilts and love it.

  13. Pamela says:

    Wow, I feel like I just avoided a $7000.00 mistake. I was about to purcahse a Queen Quilter from Tin Lizzie until I read all the bad reviews on them on this site. All I can say is Thank You for saving me! I am now looking into the Innova, still trying to read reviews and do more research as this will be my first machine. I am super excited to get one.

    • quiltingbyjeanne says:

      Definitely be careful on your first purchase. It’s very hard to sell a longarm machine, so try and get the best you can afford!

  14. P Dawson says:

    I own the Innova 26″ with the Auto Pilot System. My question is where can I find designs to add to my system. What formats work?

    • quiltingbyjeanne says:

      Personally, I like http://www.quiltrecipes.com, which sells patterns in the native .pat format, and you can get a subscription for $28/ month for all the new patterns. AutoPilot will natively read .pad and .dxf files; a lot of places sell .dxf files, as they are the somewhat “default” file type for robot quilters. Pro-Q Designer will convert almost any pattern out there, although that is not its main purpose — it’s really designed to do the quilt layout. I hope this helps!

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