3D Printing: Still a Novelty, Far Away from Becoming a Raging Trend

Much of the change that is taking place or has already transpired in the 3D world are more in the R&D space than in retail. If something can’t be seen does not mean that it does not exist. texfash.com explores.

Long Story, Cut Short
  • The lethargy of the fashion world in adapting to technology is legion. That’s the primary reason why one does not see a flurry of 3D activities in this industry.
  • The biggest challenge with 3D printing is the 3D printing workflow.
  • 3D printed garment are seen as a complimentary to fashion products.
The concept of printing, it would seem, is a 21st century invention. But it is not. The first documented case of 3D printing was way back in the early 1980s in Japan.
It's Been Around The concept of printing, it would seem, is a 21st century invention. But it is not. The first documented case of 3D printing was way back in the early 1980s in Japan. Dynamic Wang / Unsplash

Every other season since the advent of 3D printing, gushing writeups would signal how soon the new-fangled invention was out to change the textiles-fashion world. If you go back only a few years back the lane for a recap of those articles, you would feel as though it (the change) has already taken place. Unfortunately, none of those things have happened. The eternal optimists are as unreliable (as forecasters) naysayers who, without a whim or a fancy, are certain  that nothing will change.

People are still gushing over prospects and promises as they had a few years ago. And much of the change that is taking place or has already transpired are more in the research and development (R&D) space than in retail. If something can’t be seen does not mean that it does not exist.

The lethargy of the fashion world in adapting to technology is legion. That’s the primary reason why one does not see a flurry of 3D activities in this industry. Second, this industry is known to wait for the usual first movers or leaders to do the first round of experiments. After that, the herd follows. This is not about thumbing a nose at industry; that’s how it usually works.

Quite a few of the leaders have already made their moves. Brands under LVMH have for quite some time employed 3D printing to make prototypes of their products. Five years ago, the group had announced, "Eco-design is a pillar of the LVMH Group’s environmental policy in order to reduce the environmental impact of products throughout their lifecycle." The reliance on 3D printing was mentioned, but almost as a footnote: "To design products that are as sustainable as possible, LVMH has developed an ever-expanding range of resources for teams in charge of design, development and marketing. These tools include an application that calculates the environmental performance index (IPE) and an online materials library containing hundreds of innovative and environment-friendly materials suited to the luxury industry. LVMH Maisons also draw on other forward-facing technologies such as digital design and 3D printing."

Even a year before this, LVMH brand Louis Vuitton had opened at Westfield shopping centre in Sydney, what was believed to be the world’s first 3D printed pop-up store. Louis Vuitton has worked with 3D print specialist Omus to create a 968 sq ft structure in a matter of 18 days. In November 2021, the Jumeirah beach in Dubai became the site of a fascinating architectural innovation that housed a Dior pop-up store. The spaces were designed in collaboration with the Italian firm WASP, whose mission is to create 3D printed eco-housing from natural materials.

The latter examples are nothing exclusive to fashion—anyone can do it anywhere.

A few years back, a team of researchers from the Polytechnic University of Tirana in Albania worked on a project to create garments using fused deposition modelling as 3D printing technology. They concluded, "Even though 3D printing is used to realise designs without boundaries, it cannot replace the traditional way of garment manufacturing, but the latter can be used as an innovative technology in apparel products."
Cannot Be Replaced A few years back, a team of researchers from the Polytechnic University of Tirana in Albania worked on a project to create garments using fused deposition modelling as 3D printing technology. They concluded, "Even though 3D printing is used to realise designs without boundaries, it cannot replace the traditional way of garment manufacturing, but the latter can be used as an innovative technology in apparel products." John Cameron / Unsplash

Slightly wider acceptance leads to more offerings

The concept of printing, it would seem, is a 21st century invention. But it is not. The first documented case of 3D printing was way back in the early 1980s in Japan. In 1981, Hideo Kodama, while trying to develop a rapid prototyping system, ended up inventing a layer-by-layer approach for manufacturing, using a photosensitive resin that was polymerised by UV light. Kodama, however, could not patent it.

In 2006, the first commercially available SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) printer was released, and in 2008, the first prosthetic leg was printed. In 2019, the world’s largest functional 3D printed building was completed. Technological developments have been moving since at a faster pace.

The biggest challenge with 3D printing is the 3D printing workflow—how should it look, and how to devise a way to make things just like someone else wants. Softwares—as sophisticated as can be—need to develop in tandem with printers. But it is not that software developers might work at cross-purposes with printer manufacturers. Printer manufacturers now come up with their own solutions. And here, one could do well to remember that the first major printer—the LaserWriter—was developed and marketed by Apple.

Wide-format printing giant Mimaki now offers customer solutions. The ‘Mimaki 3D Print prep Pro Mimaki 3DP³’ is a cloud software service that allows for the necessary correction of errors automatically with a simple operation when printing from 3D data, and furthermore, the software can optimise the shape to be suitable for 3D models. The monthly fee is a paltry $50.

Mimaki had developed the world's first full-colour 3D UV-curable inkjet printer in 2017. In November 2020, Mimaki launched a full colour UV-LED 3D printer, the 3DUJ-2207, which it believes will turn the full colour 3D printing market on its head with its entry-level price point. It was priced at €40,000, signalling that the time is ripe to become a bit more "affordable".

Mimaki, of course, is a giant. But there are lots of other giants in the arena too. More of them, probably, in another episode. Meanwhile, the ongoing FESPA Global Print Expo could see some announcements and launches.

In a survey conducted to evaluate consumer behaviour for 3D printed garments, the majority of respondents believed that 3D printing will be beneficial for garment production. This can be related with the wastage of garments and the possibility to produce personalised garments even at home.
Personalising It In a survey conducted to evaluate consumer behaviour for 3D printed garments, the majority of respondents believed that 3D printing will be beneficial for garment production. This can be related with the wastage of garments and the possibility to produce personalised garments even at home. Cesar La Rosa / Unsplash

A few random points about 3D printing

A few years back, a team of researchers from the Polytechnic University of Tirana in Albania worked on a project to create garments using fused deposition modelling as 3D printing technology. Structures with various geometries were designed and tested with different materials starting from rigid to flexible. As a result, a fully 3D printed dress was created. Selecting this dress as a model, consumer acceptance for 3D printed garments was evaluated realising an online survey containing 100 respondents. The data showed that respondents had knowledge of 3D printing, its advantages and the majority of them would accept wearing a 3D printed dress.

The concluding lines of the study, published in the Journal of Engineered Fibers and Fabrics, were interesting: “3D printed garment are seen as a complimentary to fashion products. In the survey conducted to evaluate consumer behaviour for 3D printed garments, the majority of respondents believe that 3D printing will be beneficial for garment production. This can be related with the wastage of garments and the possibility to produce personalised garments even at home. Even though 3D printing is used to realise designs without boundaries, it cannot replace the traditional way of garment manufacturing, but the latter can be used as an innovative technology in apparel products.” The “cannot replace” bit will ring in your ears.

Perhaps, things will remain a bit slow in textiles and garments, but in footwear strides have already been made—long ones at that.

German sportswear giant Adidas is already the first-mover/leader of 3D printing in the footwear industry. It has released a range of 3D printed footwear lines like Futurecraft 4D, AlphaEdge 4D, 4D Run 1.0, over the past few years.

Adidas uses the DLS 3D printing technology that has been developed by Carbon. Together, they developed a 3D printed shoe that could be manufactured on-demand to suit customers’ demand and also deliver superior performance.

 
 
  • Dated posted June 1, 2022
  • Last modified June 1, 2022