User-Friendly Interfaces for 3D Weaving Technology

3D weaving is an increasingly common production method in industries from aerospace to automotive. It also has potential to introduce innovative and sustainable new ways of working to the fashion industry – from low-waste manufacturing to seamless garments.

Working with Future Fashion Factory researchers, York-based developer Twelve Oaks Software investigated user needs and requirements for a software solution that could open up creative and commercial opportunities for fashion designers.

Blue and black 3D woven structure at Optima 3D
3D Weaving could open up creative and commercial possibilities for designers with an accessible software solution Image: Optima 3D. Taken at Future Fashion Factory’s event in partnership with Optima 3D, The Possibilities of 3D Weaving, in February 2020.

Through contacts in the Future Fashion Factory network Paul Jervis, Managing Director of Twelve Oaks, identified a market opportunity among the specialist software used in 3D weaving.

“I had a series of conversations with other members who identified a technology gap,” he explains. “From design to manufacturing a product can go through five or six different 2D and 3D tools that all use different software, so files are changing constantly.

“I wondered about the demand for a bridge that could automate those conversions, or even a one-size-fits-all solution that meant a fashion designer would only have to learn to use one interface.”

Twelve Oaks led a collaborative project to explore how the process could be streamlined with new software, making 3D weaving more accessible to designers as a result. The project drew on the expertise of Dr Lindsey Waterton Taylor, who leads the 3D Weaving Innovation Centre at the University of Leeds, as well as Susan Postlethwaite, Senior Tutor (Research) at the Royal College of Art.

“3D weaving offers designers a sustainable approach as well as cost savings,” says Susan. “It reduces waste and even opens new possibilities for making on demand. Developing that potential will require user-friendly interfaces that allow designers to control the process without learning lots of new specialist skills.”

Bringing together the perspectives of weave experts and companies who already work with 3D weaving, mills, textile and fashion designers, 3D experts and virtual textile researchers, demanded a multi-faceted approach.

In addition to extensive desktop research to understand the commercial landscape, Research Associate Eva Lili Bartha combined in-depth interviews with collaborative online workshops to build a strong evidence base.

Travel restrictions meant the workshops had to take place online – as did Lili’s first experience with a 3D loom, as Lindsey demonstrated the specialist equipment at Leeds over Zoom.

Yellow, green and red thread about to pass through a 3D loom
The right interface could enable designers to control the 3D weaving process without learning new specialist skills. Image: taken at Optima 3D

This and the differing skills, knowledge and experience of stakeholders highlighted the importance of communicating about the technology in the most accessible way to open up opportunities to non-specialists.

Identifying common observations across varying perspectives was vital to the project’s end goal: a set of recommendations for software that would offer designers a simpler and more streamlined experience.

“We found a demand for workflows that don’t exist yet, as well as areas where user needs are and are not being met,” Lili says. “Workshops are a great opportunity to spot patterns and gaps, agreements and divergence between participants, which you can then combine with more detailed findings from interviews. Together they provide rich insights into the needs of end users.”

The project has fuelled Susan and Lindsey’s ongoing research applying 3D weaving to contemporary fashion design, offering new creative and commercial possibilities using agile, sustainable practices. For Paul, it demonstrates the potential for a new solution that offers a more efficient way of working and a better user experience. The next step is to investigate the market thoroughly to determine the commercial viability of the product.

“Price point will be a key issue because prototyping and building new software takes a lot of investment,” he adds. “This project has been a great starting point to understand where we go next.”