3D Printing Fashion: A Looming Revolution in the Apparel Industry

Time and time again throughout history, thriving, well-established, finely tuned industries have faced waves of technological disruption that thoroughly upended the status quo. The companies that anticipated the changes and were willing to (and able to) adapt quickly thrived. Those who — perhaps understandably — resisted abandoning their, profitable, tried-and-true methods or who were blind to the coming technological shifts, typically got left in the dust.

A seemingly imminent such technological revolution is 3D printing. You've probably seen headlines recently about the development of the technology. Most famously, a handful of gun enthusiasts have recently used 3D printing to build ammunition, various gun parts and, eventually, the world's first fully 3D-printed gun. But the biggest impact the printers will have will be in production of more everyday, mundane items — the sort around which vast, global industries are built.

Here's how it works:

Indeed, it's already possible to purchase several products such as eyeglasses and furniture that were manufactured with 3D printers. And the technology is starting to be used increasingly in the apparel industry:

The industry is entering "the dot matrix era," says Bill Borchard, a partner in CLL's intellectual property, trademark and copyright practice.

British footwear designer Janina Alleyne debuted her architecture-inspired Exoskeleton collection of 3D printed shoes in 2012. Mary Huang of Continuum Fashion created a textured bikini using 3D printing technology. And Nike debuted its 5.6-oz. Vapor Laser Talon football cleat earlier this year, manufactured using a 3D plate created from selective laser sintering (SLS) technology and custom-fit to each wearer's specific size.

There are two main approaches to 3D printing: working with filament, which is not suited for the apparel industry, and working with powder or granular material, which is. Although the industry is still developing, Shapeways, Materialise and Stratasys, which just acquired competitor MakerBot on June 19, are three of the most active 3D printing vendors currently in operation. Fashion's 3D designs rely on a flexible, durable white material called TPU 92A-1, which can be dyed.


You can probably imagine why 3D printing could be so disruptive to the apparel industry If all people needed to do to buy, say, a new T-shirt or pair of pants is download a bit of code, order some raw printing materials and plug it all into your machine, that would disrupt manufacturing, shipping and retail in major, major ways. Few people would go to stores when shopping. Fewer workers would be needed in garment factories. Fewer trucks and ships would be needed to get garments from factories to ports, ports to warehouses, warehouses to stores and homes.

In many ways, this is good news for apparel companies. It will lower production and fashion logistics costs. It will greatly simplify apparel supply chain management, eliminate waste, make customization easier and make product lines easier to launch and adjust on the fly.

However, the transition won't be smooth. It never is. So you can't be caught off guard. We'll dive more into some of the downsides and pitfalls of 3D printing in the future here on the apparel logistics blog, and we'll explore how the technology is affecting the apparel industry as it continues to develop.

Posted: 7/3/2013 4:40:40 PM by Global Administrator | with 0 comments

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