So far, 3D printing has not quite lived up to expectations. Skeptics are abandoning the idea of a future when you’ll be able to 3D print just about anything in your living room, and MakerBot, the only relatively well-known maker of 3D printers, has stopped producing its own printers, outsourcing the work to China.
Industrial use, rather than personal, has proved more successful, but even there the technology has been slow to develop in many fields. In the fashion industry, for instance, dreams of a 3D-printed future have mostly materialized as one-off garments that are stiff and not particularly easy to wear.
But one person who believes strongly in 3D printing’s future is Pascal Morand, executive president of the governing body of French fashion: the Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode. “Make no mistake, 3D printing is nothing short of a new industrial revolution that also holds potential for major innovation in terms of economic models, not least via on-demand production,” he wrote in an op-ed for Business of Fashion yesterday (July 27).
Morand believes 3D printing isn’t just useful for making rigid embellishments for garments, or simple items such as bracelets. Researchers could develop soft materials, such as embroidery and lace, using thermoplastic polyurethane, or TPU, and other polymers, including polyamide. “And the future is even more promising as new technologies are emerging, making it possible to print seamless garments or mix materials,” he writes. “It is also conceivable to imagine machines that combine weaving and 3D printing.”
Where Morand sees 3D printing proving most successful is in customization. Sneaker manufacturers are ahead of the curve on this front. Adidas, for instance, recently introduced a 3D-printed midsole for its sneakers that can be printed to create a perfect fit. Under Armour put a limited run of 3D-printed shoes on the market already. And Nike’s COO imagines that customers will soon be able to purchase a file for a sneaker, customized to your liking, and then print it at a nearby Nike store.
Less likely, according to Morand, is a time that people will be able to reproduce something complex, such as a luxury garment, at home, as MakerBot has discovered. He also acknowledges that 3D printing could lead to more copying, in line with Kanye West’s fears.
While consumer 3D printing hasn’t quite taken off as many hoped, Morand’s faith in its potential is heartening. It may take a while before the technology becomes widespread in a field such as fashion, but in the meantime, people are finding plenty of other applications, in construction, automotive manufacturing, and even solving crimes.
This story has been updated to clarify that MakerBot does still produce printers but no longer makes them itself.