A researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University has demonstrated the ability to 3D print a knitted structure that could be a ground-breaking production technique for apparel-related industries in the future.

Mark Beecroft, from Manchester School of Art, used 3D-print technology to create a tube-shaped structure using nylon powder to test its strength, stability and elasticity.

A traditional knitted structure, formed by rows of continuous and symmetrical loops, is high in stretch and elasticity properties.

It is therefore a good match with nylon to create an item that could be developed to help technical textile sectors – such as sportswear or medical apparel – where stretch and compression is required.

Beecroft, a Senior Lecturer in Textiles Practice, said: “The results show that it is possible to print these flexible, tubular textile-based structures at various scales with the use of nylon.

“This research potentially provides an opportunity for a new method of textile production that could be ground-breaking for apparel-related industries as combined with 3D body scanning it could offer the opportunity for bespoke, custom fit textiles, that can be created much easier than other methods.”

Beecroft used the ‘selective laser sintering’ process (SLS) that uses a laser beam to sinter powdered material – compacting and forming a solid material by heat or pressure – to create objects.

The knit structures were evaluated after print to measure their ability to be compressed and extended, as well as their stretch capabilities and overall flexibility. The structures showed good recovery after compression, along with proper flexibility.

Beecroft added: “This study is really promising as we now know that SLS is a suitable manufacturing process to achieve these knit structures.

“Further research into other flexible powder material such as TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) would also now be of interest to test the mechanical behaviour of the material, in combination with the knitted structure to compare the results with nylon.”

Beecroft will continue his research to test the durability of printed structures in controlled laboratory environments. This will involve testing the strength, elongation and load to the breaking point.


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