The Next Industrial Revolution: 3D Printing

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When we think of an industrial revolution, we often think of times in history when a new technology was introduced to the public and changed a way of life forever. We think of inventions like the steam engine, the automobile, the TV, and the computer; all of which have become engrained into everyday life. It’s hard to even imagine life without these technologies as they have drastically increased human efficiency to the point where survival in a modern world would be difficult without them. It’s easy to look back on these inventions and see how they were revolutionary for their time, but harder to consider the idea that we could be on the brink of an industrial revolution right now. New technologies are constantly being designed, prototyped, tested, and sampled, but at what point do they create an industrial revolution? Typically, a new technology starts its buzz in the world of engineers before it becomes accessible enough for public interest. Even computers were initially only celebrated as revolutionary by workers in tech before the rest of the public realized how many benefits they could provide for everyone. This is exactly what has already started occurring with the invention of the 3D printer, the next possible industrial revolution.

3D printers are rapidly being improved as the market for them expands every day. The printers have already proved their potential in industries like medicine and construction, but are on their way to completely changing the fashion industry. Some designers have started incorporating 3D printed elements into their haute couture lines such as a complex top featured in Iris van Herpen’s Spring/Summer 2010 line and a cross-hatched suit in Chanel’s Autumn/Winter 2015-16 line. These garments have appealing visual aspects, but the stiff structured materials made from polylactic acid are not practical for ready-to-wear clothing. Although, the development of more drapeable, breathable, and comfortable 3D printed materials is not far in the future and is predicted to revolutionize the entire industry.


Iris van Herpen Spring/Summer 2010


Chanel Autumn/Winter 2015-16

The benefits 3D printing could bring to the fashion industry are expected to be plentiful, particularly regarding process time, waste, and personalization of garments. With more development, brands could each have their own in-house 3D printing machines that are able to print garment prototypes from the same computer where they were originally designed. This quick and easy prototyping has already been employed in industries such as car design for a faster, easier way to see the results of slightly altered designs. This also cuts down on the amount of waste and pollution that comes from sending designs to a manufacturing company and having them send less-than-perfect prototypes repeatedly until a design is finalized. This slow, carbon heavy, and wasteful process would be greatly improved by the assimilation of 3D printers inside fashion houses. Going even further in the future, it is predicted that by 2050 3D printers could become a common household appliance. These 3D printers would be used for creating personalized designs with each individual’s unique measurements right inside their own home. It is possible that to conserve materials, the future printers will even be able to use old garments’ materials reconfigured into newly designed pieces.

Although there are many potential benefits to the incorporation of 3D printing in the fashion industry, there are also many potential problems. One of the largest problems that would arise with the usage of in-house 3D printers is the number of jobs in the manufacturing industry that would become obsolete. It is estimated that 1.8 million people are currently employed in the fashion industry just in the United States, many of which work as garment constructors under manufacturers. With the incorporation of 3D printers, the necessity of these jobs will continually minimize while more jobs will require knowledge in tech like working with CAD and coding. A tech education will become more important than having knowledge of sewing and garment construction, changing the entire demographic of the jobs in the industry. Other potential problems that could arise with the use of 3D printers in homes are issues with quality control and copyright. If customers are given the ability to alter the design of their own garment, what happens if their garment fails? It will become difficult for brands to properly implement quality control as the designs could be so easily altered by any customer. Additionally, with the power of design in the customer’s hands, it will be difficult to avoid copyright issues and counterfeiting of luxury brand designs. The question of what is an authentic design and who it should be credited to could become so complex and create many legal issues.

The potential of 3D printing in the fashion industry is exciting although there are still many problems to overcome and new future systems to reconfigure. Even then, the assimilation of the printers into everyday life will depend on the willingness of larger companies and eventually the public to invest despite the possible risks. If we continue to follow the trajectory of development currently occurring in the 3D printing industry, it is not out of the question that these machines will mark the most recent industrial revolution. In 25-50 years we could be looking back to today and wondering how it was even possible to live without this new technology.

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