3D Printing And Virtually Hands-Free Manufacturing of Textiles

3d printing flattening and hands free manufacturing


In the past the greatest struggle in reducing the costs of manufacturing of textiles (bags, shoes, shirts, etc…) has been an inability to eliminate the manual steps in the process. But big developments over the past decade have lead to new design, and pre-production tools that have left the manufacturing process almost entirely automated.


Process Overview

autodesk automation design

  1. Capture the Design Concept

    1. Build rough mock-up’s in your 3D design tools such as Autodesk

 2. Or scan the physical mock-up into a 3D modeling tool (check out innovations just released  this year in handheld 3D scanners here)

2. Refine the Design

1. Clean up the 3D model

2.Define pattern pieces and hardware

3. Produce the Components 

1. Create 3D prints of the hardware

2. Utilizing ExactFlat software, the click of a button will then convert your 3D model into a 2D flattened pattern

3. Optimize pattern for sag and stretch

4. Laser cut the pattern pieces

4. Assemble and Validate the Fit

1. The same tools that got you to this point are automated with specialty algorithm’s in order to provide the most accurate design and pattern.

2. Should the fit need to be re-worked, these software’s allow for the quickest alterations to be made within the software, saving your manufacturing process time and money.


Keep in mind throughout this automation process that the designer still maintains all of the control here. They are simply utilizing the tools of automation to make their design come to life. Of course the extent of time and effort designers spend on each design concept varies greatly with degree of difficulty, type of product, and overall extent of product design customization to name a few.



Step 1.  Capturing The 3D Design

In the absence of using 3D CAD to create the design, scanning technologies are used to accurately capture small to large scale objects in order for designers to best create accurate renderings of accessories or other modifications. Earlier this year, we explored the exciting new developments 2017 has to look forward to in handheld 3D scanning technology. These scanners will help further the automation of this beginning step, thus ensuring greater accuracy in the later steps of manufacturing.



Step 2.  Converting The 3D Design Into A Flattened 2D Pattern

For the longest time this part of the process has remained the only step that automation has not picked up on. From costly barriers to entry to lack of solutions for this category, materials was draped over prototypes, marked and measured and then cut  into patterns in a process that is more like educated guesswork than anything. Larger projects, such as marine accessory design patterns (sails, covers, customized interiors, etc.) have proven to be the most difficult because in order to accurately flatten these designs into a 2D flat pattern, designers must first accurately capture all the large measurements that make up this vessel.

3d design to 2d flattened pattern

Overcoming the Challenges of  Hands-Free Manufacturing:


Elimination of the tape and drape method for converting these 3D designs into 2D flattened patterns has not been without challenges. Initial solutions were costly and involved stepping backwards in forcing designers to learn alternative CAD programs in order to make their flattening programming work. And these programs were expensive. This barrier to entry led to a whole missed market opportunity for the thousands of companies and industries who could use 3D design pattern flattening technology.

The development of ExactFlat software rocked the market place with it’s unique proprietary algorithm. Not only was the software cost efficient, it’s ability to work with almost all 3D CAD programming meant designers were no longer forced to curb their design process with software limitations. With ExactFlat, companies like  those in the inflatable industry, for example, can design a compelling and completely unique hot air balloon design in CAD. With the click of a button that design is quickly converted in ExactFlat’s accurate and quick software programming. Once in this program, designers have the ability to manipulate individual pieces that make up the balloon design, can quickly automate and optimize for sag and strain, and then use real time calculations built into the programming to configure material costs to produce said design. All of this in as little as 5 minutes.

If companies know that a design works, have optimized all the pieces, and are ready for mass production, the tools nesting feature allows for the most cost efficient methods for printing the pattern for the cut and sew steps of automation.


3d pattern flattening vs 3D printingStep 3: Print it in 3D.


  • 3D Printing is a complementary part of the pattern flattening and production process.


  • Save time and print your “hardware”, i.e. snaps, handles, buttons, etc, in 3D


  • 3D Pattern Flattening is use on the “soft goods” part of the product such as canvas that makes up a backpack




Step 4: Print , Cut, Sew and Assemble.

print sew cut and assemble

3D Pattern Flattening is use on the “soft goods” part of the product such as canvas that makes up a backpack.   With ExactFlat and complementary 3D printed pieces, you should quickly be through the automation process of manufacturing up to this point. Quickly print and cut out the designs. ExactFlat’s features of Notches and Seam Allowance allow for the cutting of the design and follow-up sewing to be completed in no time as these tools eliminate errors and nesting software helps eliminate waste.


CAD cutters help automate the cutting process. While the actual sewing process still has some development to go through in order to reach total automation, it’s important to note that up to this point innovations in manufacturing software have made the process up to here virtually hands-free. What an exciting new era for manufacturing as the production process becomes quicker, more inexpensive, and more accurate than ever before!

Want more information on how ExactFlat bridged the automation gap in manufacturing? Check out this article as it delves further into the cost-saving importance of automation in 3D to 2D pattern flattening. Or simply start your free trial of ExactFlat today!



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