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LEAD Innovation Blog

Read our latest articles on innovation management and innovation in a wide range of industries.

Date: 03-Apr-2019
Posted by: Daniel ZAPFL

How 3D printing in the textile industry is leading into a new era


The advancing technical possibilities in 3D printing and 3D scanning make developments possible that will revolutionize production and trade in the fashion and textile industry. Clothing and shoes will soon be coming out of the 3D printer in an individualized way, new possibilities will open up for functional textiles, and 4D printing will take the 3D process to a new level with fascinating applications.


3D Printing in the Fashion Industry

Not only 3D printing, 3D technology itself is changing the entire value chain in the apparel industry from design and prototyping to the finished product and its delivery.


Cost reduction through 3D simulation

Up to now, the designer has designed a product with two-dimensional materials and then created one or more cost-intensive prototypes and sample collections before the product could go into mass production. These cost drivers can now be replaced by a virtual 3D simulation. The software is now mature enough to test cuts on virtual size avatars as well as colors and patterns. The folds and movement of the avatars are also realistically simulated. 


The 3D simulation makes the creation of the collection faster, more accurate and more cost-effective. If the prototype production is shortened, idle times and waiting times are eliminated and variants are possible at any time. This gives the company more flexibility and enables it to react much faster to new trends.

Trend Collection Textile

The technology is primarily driven by online trading, which hopes that the avatar in the web shop will solve the massive returns problem. The data material for the avatars of the simulation is currently obtained from complex and cost-intensive Bodyscan series measurements in the population. This makes human body data digitally available, which also makes 3D simulation useful for the development of new collections. According to some experts, mobile body scanners in shopping centers could be used in the near future to create individual avatars that could be used for virtual fitting.


Individualized production through 3D printing

The data from the 3D scan serve as the basis for all other 3D applications. As soon as the data has been captured digitally - and thus three-dimensionally - the step to 3D printing is not far away and ultimately a logical consequence. The clothing purchase could then take place individually in the near future and look as follows:

  1. 3D scan of the own body
  2. Creating an avatar
  3. online testing
  4. Online 3D catwalk with your own avatar, possibly also with VR reality glasses
  5. Online type advice and clothing suggestions
  6. Online shopping of the 3D model
  7. 3D printing of the model

Some manufacturers are already experimenting with automated production processes based on 3D printing. New Balance from Boston, for example, has already presented made-to-measure, 3D-printed spike plates for running shoes based on personal information. This summer, Adidas also started series production of sports shoes, some of which come from the 3D printer, in the "Speedfactory" in Ansbach.


"Speedfactory combines the design and manufacture of sporting goods in an automated, decentralized and flexible manufacturing process. This flexibility will enable us to be much closer to our consumers and to produce locally in our sales markets," says Herbert Hainer, CEO of the Adidas Group.


When shoes can soon be fully 3D printed, the Amazon idea will also become more realistic from the 3D moving printers that produce the product in the truck on the way to the customer.


Retail Revolution: The Store Concept of the Future

The "Knit For You Store" concept from Adidas shows what the future of the local textile trade could look like.  The store was operated until March 2017 as part of the research project "Storefactory" to explore the possibilities of digital production and in-store experiences at Bikini Berlin.


"We go where the consumer is and where we can get direct feedback from him - to the store," says Tanieff Eckhardt, project manager at the Adidas Future Team.  "In this way, we gain insights into how individual wishes and requirements can be transferred directly into production processes and transferred into production.


In the "Knit For You Store", customers pass through various stations, such as the "Create Station" with projections and Kinect motion sensors or the "Bodyscan" for body measurement. Within a set frame, customers design their individual knit sweater and can pick it up in the shop within a few hours. And this is how the shop looks like with the attached mini factory:


This innovative business model is no longer based on the assessment of a store on the basis of area performance. Instead of packing as much goods as possible on the area and offering a varied selection, the stores of the future are smaller and geared to the quality of the customer's experience.


Innovative applications for technical textiles

In the production of technical textiles, the main focus is on functional properties. For textile companies, 3D printing processes open up possibilities that cannot be realized with conventional processes. Elements such as plug-in connections can be applied directly to textile surfaces using 3D printing. In this way, textiles are created that integrate functionalities right from the start.

Workflow 3D

Graphic: Principle of the digital workflow in the 3D printing process, © Hochschule Niederrhein, Research Institute for Textiles and Clothing (FTB)

However, the use of 3D printers in the production of textiles is extremely complex, as plastic filaments are not used as usual. Researchers at Fraunhofer UMSICHT have now set themselves the goal of optimizing the 3D printing process for the textile industry with the three-year joint project "AddiTex". Together with partners from research and industry, we are working on the development of functional textiles for technical applications that can be produced using 3D printing.

Possible applications include tailor-made components made of narrow textiles and plastics for technical applications, the application of 3D structural elements for textile sun and noise protection, sportswear and the application of adapted mould reinforcements for protective and functional clothing.

By using 3D printing in production, the textile industry can not only functionally optimize its products right from the start, but production steps such as cutting, sewing or gluing functional components to a textile can even be saved in this way.


New dimensions with 4D Printing

Fascinating new possibilities are offered by smart materials that are printed in the conventional 3D process and then transformed into a new state on their own. In 4D printing, 3D objects take on a new shape as soon as they are connected to a specific medium.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Self-Assembly Lab, Skylar Tibbits was one of the first scientists to develop a 4D printing process with the option of programming physical and biological materials. If tibbits supply smart materials with energy in the form of heat or a magnetic field, they can assemble themselves into a product. "It's like robotics, but without cables and drives," says Tibbits.


Another interesting 4D printing process for the textile industry has been developed by scientists at the WYSS Institute at Harvard University. For 4D biometric printing, the researchers use a special hydrogel that contains cellulose fibres and transforms into an appropriate form upon contact with liquid. Areas in which the hydrogel could be used range from biomedicine and robotics to textile production and electronics. The video shows the transformation. 


At the University of Aachen, the flexibility and elasticity of textile materials is combined with the structures of rigid polymers to create systems that can convert two-dimensional structures into three-dimensional structures. The research focus is on innovative material combinations and novel geometric structures for 4D textiles.


Numerous other research institutions are also working on fascinating applications of 4D printing processes - scientists at ETH Zurich can control the changing form of 4D printing objects and Chinese doctors use 4D printing to produce and transplant a novel breast implant.


Conclusion: Revolution through 3D printing in the textile industry

The digitalization of the textile industry and further development of 3D/4D technology is leading to a strong change in the industry. In the near future, tailor-made products will become realistic for consumers, production will be replaced by flexible production facilities at the point of sale and innovative applications for functional and smart textiles will be developed. The environment also benefits from the elimination of transport routes and textile waste generated during production.

Trend Collection Textile

Daniel ZAPFL

Born in Graz, Austria. After positions as project manager & head of innovation of the project management at LEAD Innovation, Daniel Zapfl has been responsible for the success of the innovation projects of our innovation partners since January 2018.

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