Manufacture of sweaters in France using transparent and eco-friendly 3D technology

Start-up 3D-Tex has opened a fully automated factory to manufacture turnkey parts using a virtual modeling tool and the use of a seamless fabrication technique. Its objective: to be competitive while minimizing its environmental impact. Interview with Basile Ricquier, co-founder of the company.

In France, the textile sector has changed strongly to settle mainly in Asia. This industry is now considered one of the most polluting in the world. To remedy this situation, the start-up 3D-Tex has decided to participate in the renaissance of textile production in France, opening a new factory in Brittany. Your goal is to reconnect with more virtuous manufacturing. The company relies on 3D and seamless technology to be competitive and have a limited impact on the environment. Eight months after the launch of its production line, the bet is about to pay off. Meeting with Basile Ricquier, one of the three co-founders of 3D-Tex.

The three co-founders of 3D-Tex, with, from left to right: Gwendal Michel, Marc Sabardeil and Basile Ricquier. 3D-Tex credit

Engineering Techniques: What was the starting point for the creation of your company?

Basilio Riquier: We wanted to develop a more virtuous textile industry, and in order to achieve that goal, we had to face several challenges. Economically, we wanted to reallocate production while remaining competitive. For this, we fully automate the manufacturing steps of our ready-to-wear garments, which are usually done manually and are time consuming. Thanks to this solution, we were able to save on labor. So on an environmental level, we use a seamless manufacturing technique that allows us to minimize our waste as much as possible. The scrap generated by the textile industry traditionally represents about 20% of the raw material used. We were able to divide that number by 10 to bring it down to 2%. Finally, on a social level, we wanted to revitalize employment in our territory, in Saint-Malo, where our factory is located.

What technologies do you use to design your products?

Prior to manufacturing, we used 3D software to perform virtual modeling of all our new parts, with avatar fittings, as well as creating virtual twins, all with physical equivalents. Then comes the programming phase of our knitting machines. Finally, we use a seamless mechanical technology that was invented about fifty years ago to make gloves without the presence of tiny seams at the fingertips. Since then, it has evolved a lot, but the foundations on which it is based remain the same. The machines are now fully automated and the execution speed has improved enormously, allowing us to respond quickly to needs. In France, we are the only textile company that has fully automated its entire production and we refrain from manual assembly in our factory.

Today, his factory assembles sweaters; how do you manage to make them seamless?

We knit the front and back of the product at the same time, as well as the body and both sleeves. Our machines operate in a straight line, with a car moving from left to right. To put it simply, when he goes in one direction, he conceives the front row, and when he leaves in the other direction, the back row. Knitting always starts at the bottom of the product and, in the case of our blouses, we start knitting rows from the bottom and go up gradually to form three tubes: the body and the two sleeves. In a traditional production, these three panels are assembled manually through seams. With us, the three tubes are designed at the same time, and all the magic of our technology is being able to automatically assemble them seamlessly. To take an image, we started with three wires, one for each tube, and in the end we ended up with just one.

The fully automated ready-to-wear garment factory currently houses ten knitting machines. 3D-Tex credit

What are the prospects for 3D-Tex?

Our growth prospects are strong. Our production started last summer, and today our order book is already full until December. This year we will produce 50,000 pieces with 10 knitting machines and our ambition is to produce 250,000 to 300,000 pieces with 30 machines by 2025. For that we will have to move to a new factory.

Our seamless manufacturing technique is also of interest to sectors other than ready-to-wear, which is our first entry point. Its advantage is that it is able to design products without weaknesses. If I take the example of sweaters, when made in the traditional way, they tend to always break in the same place, that is, at the level of the armholes located under the armpits. It’s not the stitch that breaks, but the seam that holds the stitch. This defect does not exist in our products, and our process could be used, for example, in the automotive industry to manufacture sheaths used to protect electrical cables in automobiles. The medical sector is also a potential outlet, this time with the manufacture of orthotics. The fact that our products have no seams brings comfort to the fabrics worn close to the body. One can also imagine, in the future, the fabrication of arteries, in the form, for example, of ogives used for breast reconstruction, using wires of biological origin.

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