How art gets generated.

3D Printing Revolutionizes the Fashion Industry

Fierce, fabulous, and 3D printed.

Fierce, fabulous, and 3D printed.

By now, you’ve heard about the new trend in high-tech precision manufacturing known universally as 3D printing.

One story of particular note came out of a Boeing plant in California last year. It demonstrated just how adaptable and versatile this technology — initially dubbed stereolithography — has become since its first introduction in the 1980s.

The story goes something like this…

A high-volume coffeemaker in one of the plant’s lounges had broken down when an internal plastic part failed from fatigue.

Upon discovery of the defective part, a plant technician commandeered one of the facility’s industrial-sized 3D printers, which had been configured to produce precision metal alloy components for jet turbines. The technician quickly reprogrammed the printer, put in the parameters for the coffeemaker component, and ‘printed’ a new, perfect copy of the plastic original — only out of aircraft-grade aluminum alloy.

Within thirty minutes of the 3D printer going on hiatus, the coffeemaker was brewing coffee, workers were caffeinated, and the printer was back up and running, turning out micrometer-precise parts for airliner engines.

Here we have a small, perhaps insignificant example… and yet one of the most telling as far as demonstrating just how wide a spectrum of applications this technology can tackle, and with ease.

Here’s another example — and this one is bigger than coffeemaker parts…

Instead of demonstrating versatility, 3D printing has now gone on to show the other component of a commercially viable technology: acceptance by mainstream consumer product manufacturers.

This is an industry that’s generally not associated with cutting-edge technology. I’m talking about fashion.

The trend is growing both for the convenience of the process as well as for the styles it naturally creates.

And now, for the first time ever, a clothing designer has begun making the world’s first fully-function, fully-wearable stereolithographic apparel.

Headquartered in San Francisco, Continuum Fashion became a pioneer of stereolithograph couture by attacking the market in a spot sure to capture attention: swimwear.

Right now, you can create your own two-piece swimsuit through their website, fit to your exact color and sizing specifications, and have it manufactured from 3D-printed nylon.

You can also order jewelry, shoes, even a dress… and have it in your hands in just several days’ time.

Remember, this is the same technology that can produce airliner components out of titanium, or coffee mugs from ceramic.

It’s that versatile.

In my opinion, 3D printing technology is just scratching the surface.

Right now, we’re still in the early stages of an industrial emergence, much like 200 years ago, when a soon-to-be universal technology — steam power — was still a thing of wonder found only in a handful of applications, most notably trains.

Eventually, as this technology becomes cheaper and more efficient, and as the cost of production begins to undercut traditional methods of manufacturing, you will find that you have 3D-printed items in your home without even knowing they were 3D printed… pens, staplers, bowls, plates, kitchen utensils.

There is no limit to the shapes these machines can create; no limit to the complexity (I’ve held a 3D-printed adjustable wrench, which emerged from the machine in one piece with its moving parts fully functional); and no limit to the materials they can employ.

If you think this is going to stay a secret for long, though, I don’t want to get your hopes up…

From the looks of things, investors have really started to take notice — a fact illustrated by the last major 3D printer company to IPO earlier this year.

On its opening day in February, the stock, ExOne Company (XONE) — which IPO’d at $18 — never traded below $23.50 a share, eventually rising 47% by day’s end, setting a one-day gain record (at the time) for the Nasdaq in 2013.

Within just a few weeks of their debut on the open market, Pennsylvania-based XONE was already trading at double its IPO price.

As you read this, it’s trading at $70. We’re talking about a 193% gain for investors who bought shares on the open market that first day. Investors participating in the IPO have banked 238% to date.

Optomec may be just such a company…

Based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, this outfit is building a niche fabricating cellphone covers and Bluetooth antennas.

Last year, the still-private Optomec teamed up with the $3.8B high-tech manufacturer Stratasys Ltd. (SSYS) to create a smart wing for unmanned aerial vehicles, complete with external and internal structures and circuitry — all 100% printed.

By Brian Hicks,, 8/12/13

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