The Technologies
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Mass customization strategies are driven by a host of enabling technologies ranging from bar codes to laser cutters, body scanners to Web applications. In the apparel industry, the critical technologies for mass-customized clothing are the body scanner for collecting body measurements; computer-aided design (CAD) systems for patternmaking; the Internet for communication between the customer and the customizer; and computerized processes that assist with accurate and rapid production and delivery.

One weak link in the Internet ordering process is self-measurement, which tends to be inaccurate. When it is more widely available, body scan technology will solve this problem. The 3D body scanner is a fast and reliable tool for collecting measurements. Once a scan is taken (a 12-second process), it is transferred to the computer and visualized on the screen (about 45 seconds). In the next step, software automatically locates body landmarks and generates measurements (about one minute depending on the number of measurements desired).

These measurements are very reliable but protocols for locating body landmarks still need to be perfected. Humans come in a very wide range of shapes. A human tailor can recognize the similarities in dissimilar bodies and make informed choices about how to make a body measurement, while a computer must be programmed for every eventuality. As new software is developed, the automated measurements generated by computers continually improve.

CAD technology is critical to the automated creation of custom-fitted apparel patterns. CAD is a generic term that covers pre-production design functions that are completed on the computer; this includes surface design, sketching, and patternmaking. CAD patternmaking systems use digital information about measurements and pattern shapes to create, modify, file, store, and reuse patterns. Scan data are saved in a special format to be read by CAD systems.

Automatically generated custom patterns are sent in digital form to be cut and then used as part of an efficient mass customization process. Many aspects of garment construction can be automated, as with this machine that sews collar shapes. (Image: Cornell Body Scan Research Group)

Custom patterns can be generated in four basic ways:

  • Traditional patternmaking and grading processes can be expanded by creating multiple sets of patterns that will fit a variety of different body proportions. For example, patterns can be generated for every possible combination of waist and hip measurement.
  • Traditionally graded patterns can be used in another way by selecting the closest-fitting pattern and applying automated alterations to custom-fit the pattern.
  • Traditional pattern drafting techniques can be used to automatically generate a pattern directly from a set of body measurements.
  • New software programs are being developed that actually "unwrap" a 3D representation of a garment to make a 2D pattern shape.

Fitting the complex shape of a human body is a difficult task, even with body scanners and computer technology. The interactions between body shapes, pattern shapes, and fabric properties can create an exponential number of possible fitting issues to be resolved. The development and testing of these processes is still in its infancy, yet it is already possible to create a system that can provide well-designed custom-fitted garments.

The automated measurement feature from the body scan software generates measurements that can be used in automated pattern development for made-to-measure clothing. (Image: Cornell Body Scan Research Group)

Software can be written to locate body landmarks using a combination of information about population norms and the location of body features on the scan. (Image: Cornell Body Scan Research Group)