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3D printing and the future of textile products

November 6th, 2015 / By: / Industry News

“We have met a point of diminishing returns [in advanced textiles], especially for millenials, Michael Chalmer Dunn says. “They don’t care if clothing is warmer, lighter, etc.—we’ve gone as far as we need to. Enter … wearable technology.”

Dunn, a manufacturing and management consultant, spoke on the topic, “The future of 3D printed textiles: disruptive or liberating?” at IFAI’s Advanced Textiles Conference in Anaheim, Calif., in October.

The future of apparel manufacturing will be quite different from the current model, he says. A vertically integrated garment manufacturing process will replace the traditional supply chain model, made possible by new technologies such as the Internet of Things, “smart” materials, robotics, nanotechnology—and 3D printing.

In the vertical approach, goods are made somewhat on-demand, which means the manufacturer carries a reduced inventory of finished goods. Reduced energy consumption, increased IP protection, tax advantages (in the U.S.), closer proximity to the end user and demand-adjusted modular production capability are additional advantages.

However, with this model corporate buy-in and internal organizational resistance to change can be stumbling blocks. Also, low assembly unit speeds, limited skilled worker availability, quality assurance issues, assembly and machinery challenges, and access to adequate supplies of raw materials represent significant challenges.