Making sweaters in France using eco-responsible seamless 3D technology

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

In France, the textile sector has strongly relocated to establish itself largely in Asia. This industry is now considered one of the most polluting in the world. To remedy this situation, the start-up 3D-Tex decided to participate in the revival of textile production in France by opening a new factory in Brittany. Its objective is to reconnect with more virtuous manufacturing. The company relies on 3D and seamless technology to be both competitive and have a limited impact on the environment. Eight months after the launch of its production line, the gamble 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?

Basil Riquier: We wanted to develop a more virtuous textile industry, and to achieve this goal, we had to meet several challenges. Economically, we wanted to relocate production while remaining competitive. To achieve this, we have fully automated the manufacturing steps of our ready-to-wear pieces, which are usually done manually and are very time-consuming. Thanks to this solution, we managed to save on labour. Then, on the environmental level, we use a seamless manufacturing technique that allows us to reduce our waste as much as possible. Scraps generated by the textile industry traditionally represent around 20% of the raw material used. We managed to divide this figure by 10, to bring it down to 2%. Finally, on the social level, we wanted to revitalize employment on our territory, in Saint-Malo, where our factory is located.

What technologies do you use to design your products?

Prior to manufacturing, we use 3D software to perform virtual modeling of all our new pieces, with fittings on avatars, as well as the creation of virtual twins, all of which have a physical equivalent. Then comes a phase of programming our knitting machines. Finally, we use a seamless mechanical technology that was invented about fifty years ago to make gloves without the presence of small seams at the fingertips. Since then, it has evolved a lot, but the bases on which it rests have remained the same. The machines are now fully automated, and the speed of execution has improved enormously, which allows us to respond quickly to needs. In France, we are the only textile company to have fully automated all of its production and we refrain from manual assembly in our factory.

Currently, your 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 carriage that moves from left to right. To simplify, when he goes in one direction, he conceives the front row, and when he leaves in the other direction, the back row. The knitting always starts at the bottom of the product, and in the case of our sweaters, we start knitting rows from the bottom and we gradually go up to form three tubes: the body and the two sleeves. In a traditional production, these three panels are assembled manually using seams. With us, the three tubes are designed at the same time, and all the magic of our technology is to be able to assemble them automatically without sewing. To take an image, we start with three threads, one for each tube, and at the end we end up with only 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 using 10 knitting machines and our ambition is to produce 250,000 to 300,000 pieces with 30 machines by 2025. For this 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 with no weak point. If I take the example of sweaters, when they are made in the traditional way, they tend to always break in the same place, that is to say at the level of the armhole point located under the armpits. It’s not the stitch that breaks, but the seam that holds the stitch. This defect does not exist with our products, and our process could be used, for example, in the automotive industry to manufacture sheaths used to protect electric cables in cars. The medical sector is also a potential outlet, this time with the manufacture of orthoses. The fact that our products have no seams brings comfort to fabrics worn closer to the body. One could also imagine in the future, the manufacture of arteries, in the form for example of warheads used for breast reconstruction, using biosourced threads.

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