A study of the development and improvement of fashion products using a FDM type 3D printer
3D printing technology has been developing rapidly and is now widely used in various fields. However, the utilization of this technology in fashion products has been relatively slow. Therefore, in this study, we attempt to determine the limitations of the 3D printed clothing production process and suggest complementary measures to offset those limitations. To attain these goals, we created actual clothes using a FDM type 3D desktop printer, which is a commonly used type. Three different types of 3D printed clothes were produced based on certain geometric shapes using TPU or ABS as printing materials. The limitations of the materials, the modeling programs and the printing, manufacturing and wearing processes were examined, and several suggestions to overcome each of the limitations were presented. Based on this research, it is expected that more diverse and active attempts to utilize 3D technology will be pursued by those who develop various fashion products.
Keywords3D printer Fashion product Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
(Fused Deposition Modeling) is a form of 3D printing technology by laying down material in layers
(Selective Laser Sintering) is a form of 3D printing technology by sintering powdered material
(Stereolithography) is a form of 3D printing technology using photopolymerization
3D printing technology is one of the most significant technologies of the fourth industrial revolution in many industries, and the fashion industry is no exception (Sim 2017). Gartner’s report predicted that the medical, aviation and consumer goods industries will see rapid increases in the adoption of 3D printing technology (Basiliere 2017). Newly built aircraft that will contain 3D printed parts will reach 75%, doctors who will use 3D printed models for simulations before actual operations will reach 25%, and the world’s Top 100 companies that will develop customer-customized 3D printed products will reach 20% (Basiliere 2017). As patents for Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D printing technology expired on 2009 and 2014 respectively (Lee and Lee 2016), 3D printing technology is expanding its areas of application into various industries, including the fashion industry. Global 3D printer manufacturing companies such as Stratasys and 3D Systems are collaborating with fashion designers to exhibit distinctive designs, and Time included Stratasys’ 3D printed fashion design in collaboration with Iris Van Herpen on the list of the 50 best inventions of 2011 (David 2012). However, while 3D printing technology is actively researched and developed in other fields, the utilization of 3D printing technology has been relatively less pursued in the fashion industry due to limitations related to materials, difficulties in the acquisition of the technology and the fact that the product should be worn on the human body.
There are a number of important earlier studies related to 3D printing technology in the fashion industry. Most focus on different production methods (Vanderploeg et al. 2017), while other continuing studies include; work to offer new conceptual models of adapting 3D printing technology (Sun and Zhao 2017), on how to learn about 3D printing technology (Kwon et al. 2017), on the 3D printing materials used to create textiles (Lee and Hong 2016), and one study on the use of 3D printing technology to develop new designs (Chun 2017). While many have studied 3D printing technology as used in the fashion industry from different viewpoints, the actual target products were accessories such as jewelry. Consequently, fewer researchers have addressed the actual manufacturing processes of real clothing and analyzed the problems that arise within these processes.
This study attempts to develop fashion products, using a FDM desktop 3D printer of the type widely used in many different industries. In total, three types of designs were developed along with related accessories. This study attempts to uncover the basic knowledge necessary to produce 3D printed fashion products. As it is foreseeable that both the usage and demand for 3D printing technology will increase with regard to fashion products, this study is meaningful in terms of developing fashion products, examining the limitations, and suggesting methods by which to improve and enhance the adoption of 3D printing technology for the fashion industry.
FDM type 3D printing
There are three main types of 3D printers: the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), and the Stereolithography (SLA) types. The SLS type uses a laser to sinter the powder on the bed. The SLS type is used in a variety of fields, as it can express various material textures, create complicated shapes without support, and help make more complete products. However, it is normally used more for industrial purposes than for personal applications due to its price and size. It also needs separate equipment for post treatments of materials. The SLA type uses a laser on liquid resin, which hardens into a solid. While it can be used for personal applications, similar to the FDM type, it has the disadvantage of a high cost (Mongeon 2016). The FDM type was developed in the 1980s by Scott Crump and was commercialized by Stratasys, which was founded in 1988. The FDM type works as follows: thermal filament is supplied to the melting chamber and is extruded through a nozzle, and the melted filament hardens and makes layers to create a three-dimensional object. It is suitable for producing solid products, but their surfaces are rough, compared to SLS and/or SLA type products. Many different types of materials are used for FDM type printing, such as nylon, ABS, PLA (Poly-Lactic Acid), TPU and polycarbonate, among others (Warnier et al. 2014).
Cases of fashion design using FDM type 3D printing technology
The results of an examination of fashion design cases that used 3D printing technology after 2015, based on professional websites related to 3D printing and earlier studies, can be summarized as follows. The analyzed cases could be divided into three types: creating whole clothing using only 3D printing, using 3D printed output partially on clothing, and manufacturing accessories and other items separately.
Cases of fashion products printed in FDM type 3D printer
Maria Alejandra Mora-Sanchez
Recently, although cases involving the production of complete pieces of clothing using a FDM type 3D printer are increasing, most cases still involve partial manufacturing and/or the creation of only accessories. Thus, in this study, three full-size clothing are manufactured using a FDM type 3D printer, with the aim of analyzing the limitations of the process and suggesting ways to mitigate them.
First, the study researched the principles and procedures of 3D printing by examining related documents. This was followed by a case analysis of fashion items that were created with FDM 3D printing technology for an overview of the use of 3D printing technology in the fashion industry.
Results: developing 3D printed fashion products
A total of three types of designs were developed for 3D printed clothing. The design was based on the most basic shapes of geometry, i.e.,—circles, triangles, and rectangles. These three design types are distinguished by their modeling programs and printing materials. Design 1, based on rectangles, was modeled with only Rhinoceros and was printed using TPU as the material. Design 2, based on triangles, was modeled initially with Rhinoceros to set up the base shape, and then with Grasshopper. It was printed out with TPU. Lastly, for Design 3, Rhinoceros was used as the main modeling program and Grasshopper as a backup. It was printed with ABS to differentiate the different designs.
Design 1 was created to determine if it would be possible to manufacture 3D clothing without sewing, which is essential in the clothing manufacturing. Design 1 printed the connecting hook that holds the patterns together. TPU filament was used to create Design 1 to ensure a more comfortable feel when the material is made into clothing.
Design 2 was modeled using Rhinoceros and Grasshopper and printed using the Cubicon Single printer, after which the printed parts were connected. Design 2 was created with the intention of exploring the manufacturing process when printing more complex forms of patterns and designs using Grasshopper. TPU filament was used to create a more fitting form of clothing on the human body.
Design 3 used Rhinoceros and Grasshopper to model the base unit pattern, after which the printed patterns were connected by hand to have organic connectivity. Unlike Design 1 and 2, Design 3 was originally meant to utilize a dense knit structure which could naturally make the best of the curve of a human body. The design was inspired by a medieval knight helmet which had a circular chain structure. Design 3 was set to the concept of ‘the military look’, with the chosen color being black and the material used ABS, which has a powerful physical property. ABS is more solid and economical than TPU, and easy to remove the support structure which is an essential element for printing a circular structure. This design was developed to ascertain if it would be possible to make clothing with only 3D printed materials.
The following is a summary of the issues revealed during the entire process of producing Designs 1, 2, and 3, involving the processes of design, modeling, printing, and making the clothing and accessories.
First, there are limitations when using the materials used with a FDM type desktop 3D printer. While a SLS or SLA type 3D printer uses powder or liquid types of materials, a FDM type 3D printer can only use solid materials such as ABS, PLA, and TPU. In this study, the flexible TPU and the solid ABS were compared. PLA is also often used in a variety of fields due to their solid properties, but is not suitable for manufacturing fashion items as it is less robust and more difficult to remove supports than ABS. The solid material ABS offers high-quality output, but it needs a post treatment step due to the considerable surface roughness. The more flexible TPU offers a smoother surface, but it is difficult to remove the supports when it is printed together with this material. Some design variations were possible for TPU printout even after printing due to its flexible nature. In particular, Design 2 was modeled as thin as possible so that the 3D printout could be bent to fit the body. However, TPU has a limitation in creating diverse designs such as a design with severe curves due to its difficulty in removing supports. In contrast, the ABS printout has difficulty in modifying the design after printing, but removing of supports is so easy that various delicate designs, such as round rings of Design 3, can be produced. For connecting patterns, because of unbreakable nature of TPU, it was possible to make hinges in Design 1 or to print thinly in Design 2, to be threaded with needles. In the case of ABS, it was not possible to make hinges because of breakable nature of ABS, but patterns could be connected using glues. Thus, Design 3 used glue to connect patterns. Moreover, when stopping the 3D printing, the extruder, which melts and pushes out the filaments, cools down, after which the filament remaining in the nozzles of the extruder becomes clogged. In such case, the extruder must be detached to clear the nozzle to avoid malfunctions due to machine errors. For ABS, there is less clogging and sticking on the surface when the extruder cools down as it maintains a solid shape at room temperature. However, TPU, due to its viscosity, adheres to the nozzle when the extruder temperature decreases and readily causes clogging.
In this study, three clothing was produced using a combination of fabric and 3D printout. In the case of Design 1, stiff fabric such as PVC was used to support the 3D printout while maintaining its shape, but the combined weight of the 3D printout and the fabric made a wearer uncomfortable. While Design 2 and Design 3 were able to form a naturally falling silhouette using soft fabric, but as the weight of 3D printout became heavier, the fabric became more sagging. Therefore, soft fabric had a limitation when being used with 3D printout.
Three problems arose while using the Rhinoceros and Grasshopper program for modeling. First, the program itself was difficult to use; thus, basic education or training is required to improve accessibility to this program. For beginners, this can be an obstacle during attempts to develop various forms of clothing products. Secondly, it is difficult to develop various patterns that are suitable for the human body. When using Rhinoceros, each pattern must be drawn individually to create irregular patterns. For Grasshopper, the patterns can simply be applied by repetition or randomly, but it is difficult to develop different shapes and patterns. Moreover, partial adjustment of Grasshopper is difficult after applying the values to the overall result. Third, there is a limit when developing patterns using only one program. In Design 2, Grasshopper made it possible to align a complex arrangement of triangles of different sizes randomly rather quickly and easily. However, it was impossible to add hinges or to make partial adjustments. Grasshopper itself has the problem of being difficult to use when compared to Rhinoceros. Using Rhino and Grasshopper, the difference of shapes in the whole silhouette according to the motif size could be checked and adjusted during the modeling process, and it was also advantageous to adjust easily the size and arrangement regularly or randomly by digitizing the map. On the other hand, using other light programs for modeling the large-sized items such as clothes requires much time, when compared to the modeling of the small-sized items such as accessories. In addition, each motif has to be directly drawn one by one for those programs. It is inefficient in that there may be more errors and it takes more time.
The issues of the printing size and the printing time were revealed when using a FDM type desktop 3D printer. A FDM type printer has the advantage of a low cost relative to those of other types of 3D printers, but a large FDM printer is as expensive as other types of 3D printers, which makes it difficult for the general public to use. The 3D printer used in this study was a desktop type, complete with size and time limitations. These limitations lead to increases in both the number of outputs and the output time, which ultimately increases the price. Moreover, the FDM type 3D printing speed is comparably slow. Printing a single unit of a basic pattern takes a minimum of 30 min, and printing an entire piece of clothing requires multiple printout processes, consuming much time and effort. Therefore, in this study, we tried to simplify the design and the pattern, and to model them without support as much as possible to minimize errors and time.
Making clothing and accessories
The issues which arise during the process of making clothing after printing are as follows. First, connecting the printouts require separate work which must be done by hand. In the case of ABS, used in Design 3, glue was used to connect the patterns. In the case of TPU, used in Design 1 and Design 2, sewing or wires were used to connect patterns, as glue did not work. A tool such as a 3D pen could be used for modifications to complete the entire piece of clothing. Secondly, a post treatment step is needed to increase the overall quality of the completed product. For ABS, a process of smoothing sharp parts of surfaces is needed, and for TPU, as it cannot be sanded, it must be trimmed individually. This may be the greatest problem which arises during the manufacturing process, as it increases the manufacturing time and complicates the printing process.
The limitations related to the wearing of the clothing are as follows. First, the weight of the clothing is heavier than that of normal fabrics, which makes it more difficult to wear for extended times. Therefore, partial modification of the design is needed to take the weight of the clothing into account. For Design 3, there were several difficulties when attempting to fix the bottom of the clothing to the body due to the weight of the materials. As the designs of curved parts such as the shoulders, armpits, and elbows could not be delicately manipulated, a complicated design could not be realized. Secondly, ABS and TPU can easily break or become disconnected. Hence, a considerable amount of time was needed to put on the clothes, as great care is necessary with it. Moreover, the wearer cannot sit or move freely. In this study, the motif pattern itself was supplemented by giving elasticity, and the thigh part was intended to reduce the restriction on movement by giving a slit or space to an A-line skirt. Specifically for Design 1, hinges were used to supplement the disconnection due to movement, and for Design 2, the best connection method was chosen among three connection methods. Lastly for Design 3, the ring chain shape was used to complement flexibility. Although TPU showed little breakage due to its physical properties, ABS could not completely prevent breakage due to the nature of the material. Thirdly, even after the post treatment step, a rough feel of the surface ensured. This may create discomfort by irritating the skin or may even damage the innerwear.
This research was conducted to examine the present cases of the use of 3D printing in the fashion industry and to analyze the limitations after manufacturing three types of clothing and accessories using a FDM type desktop 3D printer of the type most commonly available. By making clothing and accessories under different conditions, this study aimed to find precisely the factors that obstruct the use of 3D printing technology in the fashion field. As noted above, several limitations were found during each process related to the—materials, modeling programs, printing processes, creating process and the wearing of the clothing.
Suggestions on means of improvement that may overcome these limitations are as follows. First, immediate development is needed with regard to materials. A material that has sufficient flexibility to express the curves and movement of the human body and with adequate hygroscopicity and breathability to offer pleasant sensations by the clothing should be developed. Moreover, 3D printing technology will become adopted more in the fashion industry if a material that is easy to remove from the support and does not clog up the nozzles through which it is extruded were to be developed. Secondly, a modeling program must be developed. Modeling programs currently available are designed to work well with the engineering or construction fields. Thus, beginners in other fields cannot easily operate these programs, and the programs require high-speed computers, creating another barrier to greater accessibility. Most designers who are currently exhibiting 3D printed fashion design their work by drawing in a conventional manner first, after which they hire or collaborate with experts to model their designs. This type of limitation prevents the designer’s implementation of his/her thoughts, and it is an obstacle to the creation of fashion items with different designs. More patterns and items could be developed if a program specialized for the creation of clothing or accessories could be developed, and realizing such a program will remove barriers for entrepreneurs or designers. In particular, it is essential to supplement the following three functions to modeling programs: the function of implementing human body shapes easily; the function of adjusting major sizes such as chest sizes, waist sizes, heap sizes, back length, and so on; the function of adding patterns to the clothes. When these fashion-specific programs are prepared, individual designers can easily model various styles of clothing. Thirdly, different and various attempts must be made during the manufacturing process. If there are developments in the areas of materials and equipment in the future, it will become possible to use different approaches to connect printouts. As shown in this research, if the modeling includes connecting parts, the connection process could be quicker and easier and would not require additional tools. Therefore, if various connection models were to be developed, it will result in shorter manufacturing time, which would in turn lead to various utilizations of 3D printing technology. Fourth, studies of post treatment steps are needed to increase the quality of the end products and to decrease the time and cost of the manufacturing process. This will lead to greater merchantability of the created items.
If 3D printing technology is seriously adopted in the fashion industry, the complex steps during the conventional process of clothing production, i.e.,—designing,—patterning,—sewing,—sampling,—modification,—production,—and—sales,—can be reduced and simplified to designing,—modeling,—printing,—and—sales. This will increase the number of individual designers and entrepreneurs who design and sell independently. This study has examined the problems which arise during the process of designing and manufacturing by individuals who use the most accessible 3D printer in terms of price and size, i.e., the FDM type desktop printer, to make their items, after which several suggestions to improve those problems were proposed.
The development of new materials and new technologies requires a considerable number of attempts and great effort. 3D printing technology is a notable current technology that is rapidly developing. This is why different industries are working actively to utilize 3D printing technology to reduce costs and increase efficiency. This study is meaningful in that it used an FDM type desktop 3D printer in the field of fashion, where the usage rate of 3D printing technology is relatively low compared to that in other industries, in that it developed three designs with which to discuss the possibilities and limitations related to the adoption of 3D printing technology in the fashion industry, and in that it made several suggestions to improve the current situation.
During the process of this study, due to limitations on printing methods and materials, the difficulty in making wearable clothing with only 3D printout was revealed. Thus, fabric was used together for the production of clothing to supplement such limitations. However, if the development of material and printing methods and the subsequent studies on various motifs and connection methods continue, the introduction of the 3D printing method to the fashion industry will be accelerated. This will have an innovative impact on efficiency. In addition, if a wearing test frame, including elements such as ease of operation and foreign body sensation, is provided, it is expected to help the 3D printed clothing into practical use. We hope that the utilization of 3D printing technology will increase in the field of fashion and that many follow-up studies will be conducted based on the findings of this study.
JC played a leading role in the planning and organizing this research. YH developed ‘Design 1’, SK developed ‘Design 2’, and HS developed ‘Design 3’. All authors conducted the analysis of limitations of making fashion products using a FDM type desktop 3D printer. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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This work was supported by Research Institute of Human Ecology in Seoul National University.
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