Printing technology could change fashion industry


British researchers at Loughborough University have teamed up with the Thai textile and garment manufacturer the Yeh Group to develop a method of 3D textile printing that could revolutionize how clothes and footwear are made. The end goal of the team is personalized 3D printed fashion items that are manufactured within 24 hours. This could revolutionize the way we shop for clothes.

Advancements have made it possible to produce 3D printed garments directly from raw material, like polymers, in a single manufacturing operation. This technology not only has the potential to reduce waste, labor costs and CO2 emissions, but it also can change how clothing is produced by encouraging localized manufacturing and production.

Currently, garment manufacturing generates 1.8 million tons of waste material; the equivalent of 20 pairs of jeans per U.S. household, and creates billions of gallons of wastewater in the process.

The new process allows designers to create personalized, ready-to-wear fashion while generating almost no waste material. The researchers say that with further development of the technology, they could 3D print a garment within 24 hours.

They add that printing clothes using this method will revolutionize 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. This modern approach to clothing production helps meet the growing demand for personalized apparel and footwear which through 3D printing can be produced in a sustainable and ethical way.

Of course, we don’t talk about what will happen to all the jobs in clothing manufacturing, but hey, that’s what innovation is all about, right?

Researchers at Stanford University have been doing some clothing research too, and with the aid of a supercomputer at the University of California at San Diego have come up with something that might have a little more relevance here in the tropics. They’ve engineered a low-cost plastic material that could become the basis for clothing that cools the wearer, reducing the need for energy-consuming air conditioning. If you can cool the person rather than the building where they work or live, it saves energy.

The new material works by allowing the body to discharge heat in two different ways that makes the wearer feel nearly 4 degrees F cooler than if they wore cotton clothing. It cools by letting perspiration evaporate through the material, something ordinary fabrics already do. But the Stanford material provides a second, revolutionary cooling mechanism. It allows heat that the body emits as infrared radiation to pass through the plastic textile.

All objects, including our bodies, give off heat in the form of infrared radiation. Blankets warm us by trapping our infrared heat emissions close to our bodies. This thermal radiation is what makes us visible in the dark through night-vision goggles.

The research blended computer simulations, nanotechnology, photonics and chemistry to give polyethylene (the clear, clingy plastic we use as kitchen wrap) some characteristics desirable in clothing material. It allows thermal radiation, air and water vapor to pass right through and it’s opaque to visible light.

The easiest attribute was allowing infrared radiation to pass through the material, because this is a characteristic of ordinary polyethylene food wrap. But kitchen plastic sheds water and is see-through as well, rendering it useless as clothing.

The Stanford researchers tackled these deficiencies one at a time. By using their computer models as a guide, the researchers found a variant of polyethylene commonly used in battery making with a specific nanostructure that’s opaque to visible light but transparent to infrared radiation, which could let body heat escape. Then they modified the industrial polyethylene by treating it with chemicals that allow water molecules to evaporate through nanopores in the plastic.

That success gave the researchers a single-sheet material that met their three basic criteria for a cooling fabric. To make this thin material more fabric-like, they created a three-ply version: two sheets of treated polyethylene separated by a cotton mesh for strength and thickness.

Then they tested their material against cotton fabric of comparable thickness, and found that the cotton fabric made the skin surface 3.6 F warmer than their cooling textile. The researchers think that a person dressed in their new material might feel less inclined to turn on a fan or air conditioner. They’re now trying to add more colors, textures and cloth-like characteristics to their material.

Categories: Apparel, Asia, Business, Europe, Technology, Textile, Thailand, United Kingdom

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