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The move to digitize engineering in textile products

EcoNote | November 13, 2023 | By:

Dr. Caitlin Knowles, e-textile device engineer with AFFOA, moderated a panel at ATA’s Emerging Technologies Conference that featured Graham Sullivan, CEO of SEDDI Inc., which supplies newly created digital data and design development tools to the garment industry, and Dr. Matthew Trexler, director of materials science innovation research with Under Armour. The topic was “Developments in digital engineering for textile product design.” 

One might assume that textile product manufacturers embraced this long ago, but this is not the case. Generally, the garment creation and production process currently relies on physical prototype iteration, and producers simply do not trust digital representations, the presenters say. To bridge the divide, AFFOA is in the process of mapping the industry’s needs for electrical and textile CAD and CAM tools for advanced textiles and has recently completed a “gap analysis” for digital engineering of advanced textiles products. 

But why is progress in the digitalization of apparel taking so long? “The apparel industry is stuck in the past; executives don’t understand the problem,” Sullivan says. But concerns about the environmental costs of wasteful practices in the fashion industry, in particular, are mounting, giving digitalization more serious attention. The amount of material that ends up in landfills in the prototyping process alone is “something we find unacceptable,” Trexler says. 

”Digitalization is the solution to a more sustainable future for fashion,” says Sullivan. Although digital product creation (DPC) has been available for some time, the digital product development (DPD) component has been missing—as well as the ability of all digital information to be easily shared and used among participants, including those using more traditional methods.

 “People need to see and feel apparel products,” Trexler says. There are new tools, but “there’s not one unified way to do it. … The people that are doing this work can do things on the fly that computers can’t do. Software can do a pattern, maybe, but there’s this chain of tools that can’t talk to each other.”

Therein lies a problem that Sullivan’s company intends to solve, with “the ability to collaborate and share,” he says. “Right now, everybody is working in silos in design tools.” 

Under Armour has engaged SEDDI Inc. to digitize its workflow. “It is possible with digital tools to come up with many more options before any physical prototype is made, which saves time, materials, money and is more sustainable,” Trexler says. In fact, a producer can know costs on material and labor, “down to the exact amount of thread needed for a single seam.” 

“If you want to make a change, change it on paper, we used to say,” Sullivan says. “Now you can make changes with a few clicks on your computer screen, before you commit to a prototype.”

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