A perfect fit in 24 hours: Bespoke 3D printed clothing poised to transform fashion

A project between Loughborough University and clothing manufacturer the Yeh Group is set to make it possible to manufacture entire garments and footwear that perfectly fit their intended wearer in just 24 hours.

The project, which will run for the next 18 months, has come about as a result of advancements in additive manufacturing, enabling clothing to be printed in their entirety from a raw material such as polymer, without the waste and associated costs normally associated with clothing production.

“With 3D printing there is no limit to what you can build and it is this design freedom which makes the technology so exciting by bringing to life what was previously considered to be impossible,” said Dr Guy Bingham, senior lecturer in product and industrial design at Loughborough University,

“This landmark technology allows us as designers to innovate faster and create personalised, ready-to-wear fashion in a digital world with no geometrical constraints and almost zero waste material. We envisage that with further development of the technology, we could 3D print a garment within 24 hours.”

3D printing has the potential to dramatically transform the clothing industry, moving manufacture away from major factories and into physical stores.

At present 1.8m tonnes of waste material are produced and 6.3 billion m³ of water is used every year by the industry, which additive manufacturing could almost completely eliminate.

There is also the matter of fit. An estimated two thirds of women and one quarter of men currently wear the wrong size, but if clothing manufacturing were to switch to 3D printing, it would make bespoke, well-fitting clothes the affordable norm.

Dr Guy Bingham with some 3D printed fabric

Dr Guy Bingham with some 3D printed fabric

Then there’s the issue of fashion trends. At present most brands follow a four-season-a-year model, based around a strict schedule of shows, deliveries and sales, but with 3D printing clothing trends could last for shorter periods for so-called ‘fast fashion’, while long-lasting styles could be reproduced for years without being taken off the shelves.

“Printing clothes using additive manufacturing will revolutionise the fashion industry worldwide by opening up digital manufacturing to the masses via online retail, bringing a much needed update to 19th century techniques and processes,” explained Bingham.

“This modern approach to clothing production helps meet the growing demand for personalised apparel and footwear which through 3D printing can be produced in a sustainable and ethical way.”

A University of Loughborough researcher scans a foot to create the data for 3D printed footwear

A University of Loughborough researcher scans a foot to create the data for 3D printed footwear

Previous efforts have been made to use 3D printing in this notoriously difficult-to-penetrate industry, but this project looks likely to have  greater success than most, thanks to the involvement of the Yeh Group.

As a major global garment manufacturer with high-profile retail brands among their clients, they have the ability to actually change the way the fashion industry operates in a way that university researchers simply cannot.

Images © Steven Lake

Images © Steven Lake

“3D Fashion supports the Yeh Group vision of direct polymer to garment manufacture, ” said David Yeh, managing director of Yeh Group division Ton Siang.

“The Yeh Group is always striving to cut out unnecessary waste and resource use, and support the industries goals of faster to market, creating a manufacturing technology that brands and retailers can install closer to their customers. This is all with no compromise to performance.”

An unnamed major fashion house is also providing design input, which should ensure that the resulting garments are appealing to wear.

In the face of a collapsing market, Acer goes once more unto the smartwatch breach

Despite the fact that smartwatches are generally seeing their sales plummet, Acer has decided to release a new product into the collapsing market. Taking “an elegant approach to fitness”, the Leap Ware smartwatch seems to be fairly standard fare, using an array of fitness-tracking sensors in combination with an app to keep tabs on all of the various statistics the sensors provide.

“As the pace of modern lifestyles become ever more hectic, people demand technology that can keep them on track and motivated to pursue their goals,” said MH Wang, general manager of Smart Device Products in Acer’s IT Products Business.

“The new Acer Leap Ware is designed to act as a virtual coach to help people go, track, and share, sending them reminders and alerts when they need them the most.”

Acer obviously has to promote its product but the above statement seems somewhat bizarrely unaware of the fact that not only is the company offering pretty much the exact same thing every other smartwatch does, but is are doing so in a market that is dying a fairly nasty death. With big names like Pebble going under, and Fitbit’s stock having been on a steady decline, the persistence in putting out new products is a bold move.

In October 2016, the BBC wrote about a new report by market analysts IDC that showed amartwatch shipments declined by 51.6% year-on-year. The Apple Watch held its place as the market leader, but shipped only a quarter of the units it had sold in the same period (July-September) of 2015. And of the five leading brands, only Garmin showed growth with that growth still being underpinned by low figures.

“It has become evident that, at present, smartwatches are not for everyone,” said Jitesh Ubrani from IDC. “Having a clear purpose and use case is paramount, hence many vendors are focusing on fitness due to its simplicity.”

Images courtesy of Acer

It was pointed out by experts that the period examined was before new versions were released, but there is still a clear lack in significant consumer appetite. The market has largely survived off the fitness aspects, with other products largely falling by the wayside as the novelty wears off. And Acer itself hasn’t exactly been the premium forerunner.

The Leap Ware watch certainly seems a perfectly fine entry into the marketplace. It’s got “diverse fitness tracking features thanks to an array of sensors with advanced algorithms” and supposedly has a battery life of three to five days so you don’t miss out on logging those all-important stats. My watch only tells the time and date. It also has a battery life of ten years.

There is a reasonable chance that initial sales for the Leap Ware may be strong, being all shiny and new as it is. There’s also a very good chance they will quickly plummet as Acer discovers what consumers are desperately trying to tell them: people don’t want smartwatches anymore.

For more information and discussion of the collapse of wearable technology, check out the latest issue of Factor magazine.

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