Consumer wearables manufacturers now have a special interest in greater personalization of the final product because they want to increase brand loyalty and build stronger relationships with their customers. These same manufacturers look for ever more affordable solutions at the same time. Both of these problems have been addressed by 3D printing, which offers scalable, cost-effective solutions with a level of customization and material characteristics unmatched by conventional manufacturing techniques.
The wearables industry has seen some exciting new innovations thanks to additive manufacturing, and AM techniques—especially when used in conjunction with other manufacturing processes—are unavoidably becoming a staple for consumer brands. Here are a few of the most fascinating applications of AM in the wearables space.
Footwear is a notable application of 3D printing in the consumer world. The huge market for footwear is one place where additive manufacturing best utilizes the benefit of highly customized and specialized design. Launching TripleCell, a platform for shoes with 3D printed components, is a joint venture between shoe manufacturer New Balance and 3D printer manufacturer Formlabs. In comparison to foam or other SLA-produced shoebeds, their ground-breaking Rebound Resin (used for the shoebed and printed through stereolithography) took advantage of its properties to provide a higher energy return, tear strength, and elongation.
Utilizing environmentally sound materials in the production of shoes is another advantage of 3D printing technology. The technology is promising for a market that is becoming more environmentally conscious because the resin used in Adidas® and Carbon®'s 4DFWD Running Shoe (shown above) is composed of 50% recycled and 39% biologically-based materials with less waste than subtractive manufacturing techniques.
The bike helmet is another instance of a wearable consumer product where an AM process has succeeded. A protective headpiece must have both high durability and low weight, which also happen to be characteristics of the polyamide material that can be used in the selective laser sintering (SLS) procedure.
One such London-based company is Hexr, which developed a polyamide honeycomb structure for its helmets using SLS technology. Co-founder Jamie Cook emphasized that this method was "the only way to make a curved honeycomb structure without distorting the mechanical properties." The final product, shown above, is a helmet with a lighter frame and greater durability than the competition (Hexr claims it is 26% safer than conventional foam helmets).
The use of additive manufacturing has many advantages beyond just personalization; it is now indispensable for rapid prototyping. A process that would have been prohibitively expensive using conventional moulding methods, the French fashion house Chanel began its ten-year quest to develop the most absorbent mascara brush by iterating over 100 prototypes (see our article on rival L'Oréal's prototyping advantages here: How L'Oréal Accelerates Time to Market with 3D Printing and AMFG's MES and Workflow Software).
Chanel used the high-accuracy SLS process to create a highly detailed surface with microcavities after finding the ideal design. This allowed for greater mascara absorption and decreased the need for redipping. Additionally, the material's inherent granularity increases surface area and facilitates a wider application of mascara on the eyelashes.
Custom jewelry comes next in the list of consumables. Since the invention of 3D printing as a technology, enthusiasts have produced miniature knickknacks and wearables using various polymers on a small scale. Since then, the procedure has been industrialized, and metal-based additive manufacturing techniques like direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) enable even more individualized metallic jewelry. Human Interface Jewellery, based in New Zealand, makes pieces styled after tech icons out of materials ranging from titanium to 18-karat gold using a combination of 3D printing technologies.
The Foliates series of 18-karat gold rings, created by artist and sculptor Ross Lovegrove using a combination of direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) and non-additive processes like lost-wax casting, were on display.
Eyewear is a product category whose design takes into account each person's individual face shape, making it a perfect fit for a manufacturing method that allows for more customization.
YouMawo, a German eyewear company, uses 3D face geometry scanning to establish extremely individualized parameters that guide the design process. Next, selective laser sintering is used to print the designs. (SLS). Then, before the specifications can be shipped, there are the post-processing, refinement, and assembly phases.
This multi-stage process sheds light on a potential barrier that has hindered the use of additive manufacturing processes in large-scale industrial production: the absence of a streamlined workflow throughout the AM process' various stages and its inability to effectively communicate with other manufacturing technologies. Here, an automated solution like MES from AMFG can help in to improve production efficiency, reduce costs and free up designers and engineers to focus on innovation.
Future-proofing your workflow
Consumer product brands today strive to reduce production costs and increase brand loyalty, while customers expect individualized items that are both affordable and environmentally friendly. While some of the 3D-printed wearables mentioned above are limited-edition luxury items, others, like Chanel's mascara brush, show the potential for mass production. Automation software, like AMFG's MES, is increasingly required as manufacturing processes become more complex in order to optimize production and satisfy consumer demand. To find out how AMFG can help you future-proof your production workflow, schedule a demo.