The use of modern technology essentially allows for a business model that removes the costs and markdowns of inventoried finished apparel through the implementation of dyeing, printing and cut and sew operations compacted into a very small footprint in a single location.
The prototype ‘integrated mini-factories’ only take up about 8,000 ft² and include on the fly pattern making, ‘digital’ printing and dyeing, and digital cutting. Fabric that is then fed to an automated system for moving bundles of cut product pieces through sewing lines.
This new concept has evolved through cooperation between AM4U, Cal Poly University, Pomona and other alliance members. Since the process uses no water or pre or post fabric treatment AM4U claims there is no more environmental impact than a desktop printer.
The business model shows that custom clothing made specifically for individuals can be completed in a matter of hours versus the month or longer that is typical in the traditional retail model. Having just completed the first round of funding, the goal is for the first working factory to be up and running by the end of January.
AM4U hopes to prove that commercial implementation can double profits at wholesale and triple or quadruple profits at retail. Once this is proven as a viable model for U.S. apparel manufacturing, the company plans to license the AM4U factory model across the country.
The Coloration Technology
The system’s main new technology is a method of dyeing called Active Tunnel Coloration (ATC) infusion, which is patent pending. While the infusion process looks similar to digital and sublimation textile printing, the results are dramatically different since ATC utilizes a different type of technology.
ATC is a waterless process that uses photons at a specific frequency to create pathways in the filaments of synthetic fibers. While these areas are “open”, the dye can enter them. Once the energy source is removed, the pathways in the fibers close and the dye is effectively locked into the fibers. This process offers superior dye penetration not unlike solution dyed fibers, which are extruded with color already added to the melted polymer.
Because of this, fabrics dyed using the ATC method have superior wash fastness, low crocking and incredible resistance to bleaching. Pattern pieces can be ‘dyed’ and have prints or logos applied at the same time. ATC also allows application of one color on the face side of the fabric and a completely different one on the back with no bleed through.
AM4U also utilizes existing machinery and technologies such as optical sensing fabric cutters from Gerber Technology, Eton System’s automated cut parts moving system, [TC]² body scanning technology, Optitex 3D visualization software, Ergosoft RIP software, Coats thread, and Gans ink. Monti Antonio supplies the base unit for the ATC technology, Allied Modular creates the control room spaces, and Vanguard PAI Lung is working on incorporating its knitting technology into the model.
All of these companies offer standalone products or services used within the industry today. The big differentiator that AM4U provides is linking them all together and getting the various file types, color spaces and physical events to “talk to each other” in one complete automated system.
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