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Why 3D Knitting is Right at Home with Interiors

In an industry that changes so rapidly, it can be staggering to realize how close we still are to the garment-making ways of the 1800s.

While many processes have indeed modernized and digitized, there remain quite a few labor-intensive steps that occur once the fabric is created. These moves can be extremely wasteful from multiple touchpoints—time, labor and environmental—with the problems transcending apparel into the other industries that rely upon knitted fabric, such as automotive, medical products and home goods.

As a developer of “floor to ceiling” furniture and office solutions for businesses around the world, Haworth is one such member of this last group. Its offerings primarily target large-scale commercial customers, drawing influence from the design, architectural and real estate industries. And while at first glance it might not seem this company would have a great deal in common with apparel manufacturers, it’s important to remember that any fabric with a shape usually requires a seam to create that shape.

In order to more efficiently and creatively create those shapes, Haworth turned to 3D knitting, incorporating Shima Seiki’s WHOLEGARMENT™ machine at its R&D headquarters. The technology enabled the company to create furniture with targeted comfort areas, passive support systems and environmentally friendly practices, said Alexis Troxell, Haworth color, materials and finishes designer, all completed with minimal impact on cost or timing.

“Aesthetics are endless,” she added, “and we are just turning a corner for technical knitted textiles. This is and will continue to be a technology worth leveraging for Haworth.”

3D knitting is among the most sustainable forms of knitting. Traditional processes require fabric to be pieced together by sewers after it’s cut, producing a seam that typically serves as the largest source of trouble in a product’s lifecycle thanks to wearing and fraying. With 3D knitting, however, the yarns are fed into the machine and the pieces pre-shaped as they’re knitted. Not only does this eliminate that problematic seam, but it also decreases the amount of raw materials required and reduces up to 30 percent of cut waste, said Hayato Nishi, senior business development at Shima Seiki.

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By eliminating this traditional cut and sew, WHOLEGARMENT™ allows manufacturers to go straight from fiber to final product, greatly improving speed to market. What might take up to 18 months from concept to final product can be accomplished in a matter of weeks, aided in no small part by the ability to create samples on-site. It also facilitates a just-in-time manufacturing model so companies can product smaller lots to test the waters with new products and/or create customized goods.

“As trends change, so does knit technology,” said Troxell. “Through digital knitting, we have been able to share the value of no-waste design with no sacrifices being made.”

3D knitting is also known for being kinder on labor requirements, and this is no accident as WHOLEGARMENT™ draws its roots in the name of worker relief. The company’s founder, Dr. Shima, developed the technology because his mother was a factory worker on a knit-glove assembly line. The physically demanding work took a toll on her vision; to help her, Shima developed the first fully automatic glove knitting machines, Nishi said, which led to the development of the WHOLEGARMENT™ technology for use in apparel and other industries.

One of the biggest misconceptions about 3D knit technology is that it’s specific to the fashion industry, Nishi noted, with companies failing to realize the opportunities available to other businesses. It’s really suitable for any business seeking sustainable manufacturing alternatives; a reduction of labor-intensive processes; or simply a sleeker, all-in-one piece construction to create their designs.

And while the technology does require a skilled worker to operate and program the machines to knit out the elevated product, Troxell said she was pleasantly surprised by the ease in which Haworth was able to marry its legacy technology with the new WHOLEGARMENT™ technology.

It was, as a matter of fact, seamless.

Learn more about WHOLEGARMENT™ at Shima Seiki’s KNITify the World theme at the 6th Bi-Annual Global 3D Knitting Seminar (G3D), held Oct. 23-24 at the company’s LA showroom.