5 Exciting Examples of 3D Printing in Consumer Wearables04 April 2023
Image Credit: Adidas
In today’s consumer goods landscape, greater personalisation of the end product has become a particular interest of consumer wearables manufacturers who wish to procure greater brand loyalty and stronger relationships with their customers. At the same time, these same manufacturers seek ever more cost-effective solutions. 3D printing has provided a solution to both of these questions, delivering cost-effective solutions at scale and with a level of customisation and material properties not seen in traditional manufacturing approaches.
Additive manufacturing has brought exciting new innovations in the wearables sector to the forefront, and AM techniques, particularly in combination with other manufacturing processes, are inevitably becoming a mainstay for consumer brands. Take a look at some of the most exciting examples of AM in the wearable market below.
A notable example of 3D printing’s use in the consumer sphere is in footwear. Additive manufacturing carries the benefit of highly personalised and specialised design, and nowhere is this benefit more capitalised on than in the huge market of footwear. Shoe manufacturer New Balance has collaborated with 3D printer manufacturer Formlabs to launch TripleCell, a platform for shoes containing 3D printed parts. Their breakthrough Rebound Resin (used for the shoebed and printed through stereolithography) exploited its properties for a higher energy return, tear strength, and elongation than foam or other SLA-produced shoebeds.
Another benefit of 3D printing technology in the manufacturing of shoes is its ability to use materials with strong environmental credentials. The resin used in Adidas® and Carbon®’s 4DFWD Running Shoe (pictured above) is composed of 50% recycled and 39% biologically-based materials, and the lack of wastage when compared to subtractive methods of manufacturing make the technology promising for an increasingly eco-conscious market.
For further reading, see our previous post exploring AM in footwear in more detail here: 5 Exciting Examples of 3D Printing in Footwear Manufacturing.
Another example of where an AM process has proven successful in the wearable consumer market is the bike helmet. High durability and low weight are two necessities for a protective headpiece, and they also happen to be the properties of the polyamide material that can be used in the selective laser sintering (SLS) process.
One example out of London is the startup Hexr, who created a honeycomb structure for their helmets out of polyamide material through SLS technology, which co-founder Jamie Cook stressed was “the only way to make a curved honeycomb structure without distorting the mechanical properties”. The end product (pictured above) is a helmet more durable than the competition (Hexr claims 26% safer than traditional foam helmets), while boasting a more lightweight frame.
Customisation is hardly the only benefit to using additive manufacturing – it has become invaluable in rapid prototyping. French fashion house Chanel began its 10-year journey of creating the most absorbent mascara brush by iterating over 100 prototypes, a process that would have been far too costly using traditional moulding techniques (see our article on competitor L’Oréal’s prototyping benefits here: How L’Oréal Accelerates Time to Market with 3D Printing and AMFG’s MES and Workflow Software).
With the right design found, Chanel exploited the high-accuracy SLS process to produce a highly detailed surface containing microcavities, allowing greater absorption of mascara and reducing the need to re-dip. The inherent granularity of the material used also helps to improve surface area and allow for a greater spread of mascara on the eyelashes.
All these benefits come at no cost to the scale of production: Chanel claims to produce up to 50,000 brushes per day, providing an encouraging prognosis of AM in mass production.
Next in the wearable goods category is custom-made jewellery. For as long as 3D printing has existed as a technology, hobbyists have created small trinkets and wearables on a small scale out of various polymers. In the decades since, the process has become industrialised and metal-based additive manufacturing technologies such as direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) make possible even greater personalisation of metallic jewellery. New Zealand-based Human Interface Jewellery uses a combination of 3D printing technologies to create pieces styled as tech icons in materials from titanium to 18-carat gold.
Artist and sculptor Ross Lovegrove exhibited a series of 18-carat gold rings called Foliates (pictured above), which he achieved with a combination of direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) with non-additive processes such as lost-wax casting.
Eyewear is a product category whose design concerns the unique shape of one’s face, making it an ideal application for a manufacturing process that offers greater customisation.
German-based eyewear company YouMawo uses 3D face geometry scanning to set highly personal parameters that inform the design process. Next, the designs are printed using selective laser sintering (SLS). Then come the post processing, refining and assembly stages before the specs can be shipped.
This multi-stage process highlights a potential roadblock that has limited additive manufacturing processes in large-scale industrial production: the lack of a streamlined workflow through all stages of the AM process, as well as its inability to efficiently talk to other manufacturing technologies. This is where an automated solution such as AMFG’s MES can step in to improve production efficiency, reduce costs and free up designers and engineers to focus on innovation.
Future-proofing your workflow
In today’s market for consumer goods, brands aim to cut production costs and build brand loyalty, while customers expect personalised products that are environmentally conscious and reasonably priced. Some of the above wearables produced with the help of 3D printing have been limited-edition luxury items, while others, such as Chanel’s mascara brush, demonstrate the potential for mass production. As manufacturing becomes more complex, automation software like AMFG’s MES becomes ever more necessary to optimise production and meet the demands of the consumer market. Book a demo to learn how AMFG can help future-proof your production workflow.
For more inspiring projects, check out our previous article on additive manufacturing in consumer goods here: 10 Exciting Ways 3D Printing is Being Used in the Consumer Goods Industry.
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