Author: Cammy Pedroja, PhD
From plastic trinkets, to life-saving medical devices, to entire modular houses, the power of 3D printing has been making headlines for years as an impressive tool in manufacturing. But is this rapidly developing technology on its way to triggering the next industrial revolution, as heavy hitters like Pascal Morand have intimated? For those in the fashion and accessories business, the implications are striking, but the timeline remains unclear.
The Question of Mass Production
In the past, 3D printing has been useful mainly for prototyping or very small-scale production, because of the limits of the technology. However, with impressive gains in mastering the science behind the method, 3D printing is beginning to be a viable option for mass production, which is likely to be a game-changer in the fashion industry, as well as countless others.
For instance, earlier this year, Adidas released its first sneaker mass-produced through 3D printing to much pomp and circumstance and plenty of customers trying to get their hands on a pair for a high price. Still, Adidas is an outlier in this manufacturing trend, as for many manufacturers, the traditional plastic mold model is still more cost-effective than 3D printing. But this is, of course, a temporary limiter, as the technology becomes cheaper and cheaper.
What About Material Comfort?
Sure, as the technology becomes more refined, more available, and less expensive, 3D printing could solve myriad supply chain issues, streamline the designing process, eliminate sizing and fit issues, and make tailoring and customization a snap, which will certainly benefit consumers. But we all must be wondering: what about the characteristics of the materials? If you’re involved in the garment world, you know that types of fabrics and textiles used are at the core of customer opinions and cost decisions. And for in most people’s minds, 3D printing is associated with hard plastic products.
While being restricted to hard or non-flexible materials is no problem for fashion spaces like eyewear, jewelry and timepieces, where 3D printing is already being implemented with success, recent strides in the technology have introduced more flexible materials like lace and rubber-like mesh cloth onto the scene. So, while up to now the most prominent effects from 3D printing in the fashion business may have been cropping up in the accessory arena, or in the sometimes avant-garde or architectural elements of haute-couture, soon, we can expect greater availability of more appealing and wearable textiles to revolutionize all areas of the garment industry.