Digital textile microfactories create resource efficiency
Dr Thomas Fischer, from DITF, Europe’s largest textile research centre, on analysing inputs and outputs for agile, sustainable, just-in-time fashion products.
Digital printing technologies are a foundation of digital textile microfactories, which offer a wide range of possibilities for resource efficiency and sustainability as well as satisfying customers with personalised, high-quality clothing that is quickly delivered.
Material flow and cost accounting (MFCA) and life cycle assessment (LCA) are suitable methods to model, analyse and evaluate processes in terms of resource efficiency and sustainability. LCA is standardised through ISO 14040 and ISO 10444 and quantifies environmental impacts through indicators such as global warming potential, ozone depletion and acidification. MFCA can help companies achieve resource efficiency by detailing inputs of, for example, electricity, compressed air, fabric, transfer paper, disposed printheads against the output: in this case, a garment.
Microfactories and Industry 4.0
Digital textile microfactories are a platform for digitally consistent processes and a new production paradigm. They are a breakthrough for the fashion industry on its way to the new world of Industry 4.0, or the fourth digital revolution, incorporating end-to-end engineering from 3D design to productions, with a completely networked and integrated production chain from pattern and design to final garment.
This modular concept can be realised by suitable workflows, process integration and matching business models. So, what does the future look like? Digital microfactories use body scanners, 3D design, virtual reality and augmented reality for perfectly fashioned garments. Printing and cutting are undertaken using digital technology and sensors, and data and artificial intelligence is leveraged to reduce waste and time-to-market.
Local production produces less waste and requires less transport
Waste that is produced – mechanical, thermal or chemical – is recycled: this includes high-performance fibres such as C-fibres, HMPE/PP and aramides; and mono-material composites.
These actions improve the design and production of individual products for better fitting garments and increased acceptance by clients. Local production produces less waste and requires less transport.
Textile printers want shorter time-to-market, increased flexibility, and nearshore production, which produces less waste and requires less transport. To summarise, digital microfactories employ integrated process chains, standardised interfaces and digital twinning <add hyperlink to Matterport article> to translate virtual models directly into physical products.
Micro to macro
There is a conflict between sustainable, economic, and quality targets: printers must consider global warming potential, durability, cost, and the end product’s colour depth, rigidity, and fastness. A technical analysis of different printing set-ups in terms of inks and fabrics is necessary to choose the best combination for the use case at hand. With a multi-criteria decision-making (MCDM) analysis, ecological and economic criteria can be weighted and combined for the best results.
In our analysis of balancing these factors, we discovered, for example, that higher resolution does not necessarily lead to higher quality; reactive ink seems better for certain quality goals; and there was no clear winner when evaluating polyester as opposed to cotton.
Digital textile microfactories have great potential for nearshoring and providing the market with customised products and small lot sizes.
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