Startup 3D-Tex has opened a fully automated plant for the production of finished products using a tool of virtual modeling and the use of seamless production technology. Its goal is to be competitive while minimizing environmental impact. Interview with Basil Ricker, co-founder of the company.
In France, the textile sector has shifted sharply to gain a foothold mainly in Asia. This industry is now considered one of the most polluting in the world. To remedy this situation, the startup 3D-Tex decided to take part in the revival of textile production in France, opening a new factory in Brittany. Its purpose is to reconnect with more efficient production. 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 the production line, gambling is about to pay off. Meeting with Basil Ricoeur, one of the three co-founders of 3D-Tex.
Engineering Technology: What was the starting point for setting up your company?
Basil Rickier: We wanted to develop a more efficient textile industry, and to achieve this goal, we had to solve several problems. Economically, we wanted to move production while remaining competitive. To achieve this, we have fully automated the stages of production of our finished products, which are usually done by hand and take a lot of time. Thanks to this decision, we managed to save labor. Then, at the environmental level, we use seamless production technology, which allows us to minimize waste. Trimmings formed in the textile industry traditionally account for about 20% of the raw materials used. We managed to divide this figure by 10, reduce it to 2%. Finally, at the social level, we wanted to revive employment in our area, in Saint-Malo, where our factory is located.
What technologies do you use to develop your products?
Prior to production, we use 3D software to virtually model all of our new products with avatar attachments, as well as create virtual twins, all of which have a physical equivalent. Then comes the programming stage of our knitting machines. Finally, we use seamless mechanical technology, which was invented about fifty years ago to make gloves without small seams on the fingertips. It has evolved greatly since then, but the foundations on which it rests have remained the same. Now the machines are fully automated, and the speed of execution has improved significantly, which allows us to respond quickly to needs. In France, we are the only textile company that has fully automated all its production, and we refrain from manual assembly at our factory.
Now your factory collects sweaters; how do you manage to make them seamless?
Knit both front and back of the product, as well as the torso and both sleeves. Our machines work in a straight line, with the carriage moving from left to right. To simplify, when he goes in one direction, he designs the front row, and when he goes in the other direction, the back. Knitting always starts at the bottom of the product, and in the case of our sweaters, we begin to knit rows at the bottom and gradually rise up, forming three tubes: the body and two sleeves. In traditional production, these three panels are assembled by hand using seams. We have three pipes designed at the same time, and the whole magic of our technology is to be able to assemble them automatically without sewing. To take a picture, we start with three threads, one for each tube, and at the end we get only one.
What are the prospects for 3D-Tex?
Our growth prospects are great. Our production started last summer, and today our order book is already full by December. This year we will produce 50,000 pieces on 10 knitting machines, and our ambition is to produce 250,000 to 300,000 pieces on 30 machines by 2025. To do this, we have to move to a new factory.
Our seamless production technique is also of interest to other sectors besides ready-made garments, which are our first entry point. Its advantage is that it is able to create products without weaknesses. If we take for example sweaters, when they are sewn in the traditional way, they always break in the same place, ie at the level of the armhole located under the armpits. It is not the stitch that breaks, but the seam that holds the stitch. This defect does not exist in our products, and our process can be used, for example, in the automotive industry to make sheaths used to protect electrical cables in cars. The medical sector is also a potential sale, this time with the manufacture of orthoses. The fact that our products have no seams provides comfort to fabrics that are worn close to the body. You can also imagine the future production of arteries, for example, in the form of warheads used for breast reconstruction, using biological threads.