Why 3D printing is gaining traction in textile sector
3D printing enriches the work of the textile and fashion industry and motivates future designers and scientists to engage in further exploration, informs Dr K H Prabhu.
3D printing is one of the emerging technologies in the modern era. Although this technology was known for a fair amount of time, due to the recent climate changes, sustainability point of view, reduced production time etc, its potential for developing different manufacturing sector have started. Clothing is considered to be an important element of human social activities. The paper highlights the basic concepts of 3D printing, different technology applied in textiles and its application for the development of textile fabrics, textile surface printing. The paper also highlights some of the major commercial products developed by different researchers and also companies. Overall, this paper seeks to identify the different possibilities of 3D printing, despite some shortcomings, 3D printing enriches the work of the textile and fashion industry and motivates future designers and scientists to engage in further exploration.
Today, fashion & clothing is an important integral part of human social activity. At present, humans not only track the beauty and comfort of clothing, but also started to pay attention to the expression of personality and aesthetic characteristics, which postures a new challenge to the textile and garment manufacturing industry. Keeping these points in minds, researchers have started exploring the application of 3-dimensional structure development of textile materials and products in the recent years.
Before stepping in to this topic, it is very much important to understand what is 3D printing? Basically, 3D printing, alternatively known as additive manufacturing, is a recent innovation that has become one of the fast and most important manufacturing methods for producing various products in the field of polymers, medical & also fashion industries. The products are developed or constructed layer-by-layer according to a definite computer-aided design from extruded materials. Such technology is being used by engineers, doctors, designers, scientists, students, market researchers, artists etc to make different respective field products. Initially, everyone used the name “Rapid Proto Typing machine”, which reduce the time cycle for the product development. Now it is called as “3D printing machines”. There have been several different types of 3D printing processes established over the past few decades such as fused deposition modelling, stereolithography, selective laser sintering, selective laser melting, digital light processing, and fused filament fabrication etc.
On the other hand, 3D printing methodology is more advantageous as compared to traditional manufacturing technology, like it results in cost effectiveness, lesser time of production, minimal resource utilisation, relatively lesser waste, energy saving and finally enhanced design making freedom. Industries like aerospace, transportation, construction and medical textile and space industries are those which are extensively starting utilising this technology for development of eco-friendly and more cost-effective products. The present paper discusses the different type of methodology of 3D printing, applications in textile industries, sustainability advantages etc.
- 3D printing types
A 3D printer is a type of industrial robot. It can be classified on the basis of form of materials used to make model. The form of material can be solid, liquid and powder. The overall classification of additive manufacturing is given below:
Generally speaking, 3D printing products undergoes the following four steps, namely, 3D modelling, layered slicing, printing and post-processing. Presently in the market, there are various 3D printing techniques are available. However, two basic kind of technology used in the textile field are fused deposition modelling (FDM) and selective laser sintering (SLS).
Fused Deposition Mode
It is process in which a high temperature heated nozzle is employed to melt and deposit the materials layer by layer to form 3D shape. The FDM printing equipment working temperature is about 300oC, thus the printed material possess excellent thermoplastic processability, also have a lower moulding temperature and certain solution strength. In this process, it requires good adhesion material in order to avoid layer cracking caused by thermal stress. Main advantage of this process is low-cost processing. However, this process can only print clothing with a simple shape based on the textile structure.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
In this process, the powder material is preheated first just below the melting point of the respective raw material and then it tiles the materials. Simultaneously, a laser beam is employed to carry out layer by layer sintering process as per the cross section during the slicing process and finally the finished product is obtained by removing the excess material. The SLS process. The process of printing nylon powder by SLS to create flexible textile structures was explored by Beecroft. He explained that using this technology a complex geometry can be formed without adding additional support elements during the process of forming clothing textiles. This clearly explains us that the SLS process technology is an ideal method for forming fine-structure textiles.
- Importance of 3D printing in textile industry
Although the field of 3D printed fabrics is still in its infancy, using these methods to manufacture textiles can offer several important advantages. The textile industry is a water and material resource intensive industry that leaves a huge environmental footprint. The global textile industry is currently highly unsustainable and researchers are constantly looking for new ways to improve the methods used in the industry. Textile 3D printing has the potential to dramatically reduce the number of resources required to produce fabrics for applications such as clothing and furniture. You can streamline your process by using less raw materials, chemicals and water, and significantly reduce the amount of waste generated by the 3D printing process
The following are the benefits and sustainable solutions are obtained from 3D textile printing process:
Less CO2 emission: It can save a lot of fuel. In conventional production process, a product is usually transported several times since the product is often made in production facility in another country after that it moves to packaging and finally goes to shops or respective place. Since, lot of transportation is involved, lot of greenhouse gases are released, this can avoided by implementing the 3D printing technology in the nearby or within the medical facility for making the products and applications. The product can even be designed in one country and emailed (design file) to another country for production. It is therefore not necessary to transport the item several times. As a result, there is a reduction in shipping, air travel and road travel. An indirect but great benefit of what makes 3D printing sustainability even higher.
Lighter weight products: 3D printed medical textiles are 50 per cent lighter than traditional produced items than the conventional products, the very aircraft and vehicles performing the transportation could be 3D printed themselves, resulting in lighter vehicles that don’t need as much energy to operate.
Repair of parts: A 3D printer allows you to easily print the particular component by yourself. Thus, can reuse old products more often instead of buying new ones. It is a third environmentally friendly reason that makes 3D printing sustainability even better.
Wastage less: 3D printing employs only required amount of raw materials for making a product. It means that building parts are made layer by layer. Thus, it results in less wastage than the subtractive forms of fabrications namely shaping the product using cutting or any other finishing process. One more advantage and more sustainable process.
Eco-friendly materials: Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene is the common thermoplastic polymer, very strong and lasts a long time, but the plastic is not easily biodegradable. However, nowadays, more and more PLA plastic is being used. This type is better for the environment and is biodegradable. Further, Nanocellulose and hydrogels are more ecofriendly raw materials and are completely bio-degradable in nature. Another area where 3D printing makes is the manufacture of “smart” materials with implanted different functionalities.
In short, 3D printing is a revolutionary solution for the textile industry.
The following are the disadvantages of 3D textile printing process:
The major drawback of 3D printing fabrics is their stiffness compared to traditionally manufactured textiles relatively, Thus, makes it or limits their wearability property and comfort level. Researchers are working on this parameter and few solutions have been proposed to overcome this limitation. The main approaches which they emphasised are printing flexible surface area, printing fibres and printing the structure on the finished garments etc. Other studies have shown that the direct deposition of 3D printed polymers on traditional fabrics to produce fabrics with unique structures and aesthetic values.
Some of the major research work and commercial products developed globally are given below:
|1||3D knitwear||3D knitwear has been investigated in recent years, with machines that can 3D print individual fibres developed by companies such as new industrial order. Clothes can be manufactured based on the order which results in reduction of waste, energy saving and materials. If required, the 3D knitwear can be reravelled and the yarn can be reused.|
|2||MIT’s work on soft fabrics||Inspired by collagen, MIT researchers created a stretchy, tough, and pliable fabric that works with the human body as personalised, wearable supports. They claim that this product could be employed in the textiles industry as well as for use in the medical field as cardiovascular stents, surgical mesh, and braces.|
|3||3D printed fabrics with enhanced cooling||University of Maryland have developed an advanced heat absorbing 3D printed fabric. It is composed of polyvinyl alcohol and boron nitride which possess excellent thermal conductivity property, absorbing the heat in to it as well as expelling it out the other way. The final product is highly low cost, powerless air conditioners which can be employed in home textiles, roofs, and sport wears.|
|4||NASA’s scale maille||NASA has developed a fabric that provides enhanced insulation and protection against the harsh environment of outer space. “scale maille” which can be printed in one piece from innovative flexible metal. It resembles scale armor and possesses enhanced thermal control, flexibility, foldability, and strength. Both geometry and function can be printed|
|5||Enhanced protective||Wang et al. has produced an innovative 3D printed protective material composed of interlocked granular particles which changes its character or nature between soft to harden state and flexibility, the material can bear loads of more than thirty times the weight of the material in the hardened state.|
|6||3D printing prosthetics||According to NGO LIMBS, only 5 per cent of the nearly 40 million amputees in the developing world have access to prosthetic devices or assistance. Several 3D printed prosthetics projects have already been developed all around the world. 3D printed prosthetic arm, Hand prosthetics, Leg prosthetics, the first-ever dog with a 3D printed prosthetic leg in Australia etc products are commercially manufactured and available in the market.|
Today, the entire manufacturing sector are focusing in cutting down the product development time, production time with improved quality. Almost all fashion designers worldwide are showing interest in the field of 3D fabrics and busy getting their hands on it and also learning the basic concepts of it. In an age of growing concern about the waste produced by the textile industry and its environmental damage, the opportunities for 3D printing services and the textile revolution are very much in increasing. Fashion designers uses 3D printers to develop jewellery, accessories, and clothing. Once 3D printing becomes common in to the market, it will be possible to for anyone to produce garment and fashion items in their own places. As the field grows, there will no doubt be more and more innovation in the manufacture of 3D printed fabrics will emerge into the market.
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About the author:
Dr K H Prabhu is a Senior Technologist (Dyeing & Finishing) at Texcoms Textile Solutions, Singapore. He has over 11 years’ experience in textile processing sector, working in the industry, consultancy, academia and research. His areas of expertise are textile processing, green chemistry, functional finishes, functional dyes, natural dyes and technical textiles etc. He has 11 research publications, 20 review articles (National & International) and a book chapter. He has carried various consultancy works and led various processes, detailed survey of textile processing units in India, Bangladesh, South Africa and Indonesia.