3D printing gave designers freedom, speed, quality and a minimum of waste

Can small fashion businesses benefit from 3D printing? The answer is yes. The Danish eyewear firm Monoqool has been designing and manufacturing 3D-printed eyewear in cooperation with Damvig A/S for almost 10 years. 

Monoqool became aware of the advantages of 3D printing by pure chance: it started with an urgent task for a fashion fair in Paris in 2012. Monoqool needed to develop a new collection for rapid presentation on the market. 

Time was of the essence, but the firm was not willing to compromise on design, quality or functionality. A new approach was required in order to have the collection ready for the fair in Paris, and the firm decided to try 3D printing. 

Monoqool has never had occasion to regret that decision: the quality proved to be at least as good as for conventionally manufactured eyewear, and the solution offered a number of additional advantages. So now Monoqool relies 100% on 3D printing. 

A short development process 

Since the decision to become a pioneer within 3D-printed eyewear nearly 10 years ago, Monoqool has been a success. Today the firm supplies fashionable eyewear to more than 1,000 retailers worldwide. 

Several factors have contributed to the success of the Danish firm. Above all, speed has been a huge advantage for Monoqool: while it normally takes at least 12 months to design and manufacture an eyewear collection, partnering up with Damvig meant that Monoqool’s innovation process could be shortened to less than five months. Monoqool works with Damvig on both prototypes and serial production. 

– The time horizon – from design idea to prototype – is ultra-short. It is a fantastic toolbox that speeds up our processes. We can rapidly test ideas because our design phase has been accelerated. 3D printing is highly suited for all firms that need shorter product development phases and combine low volumes with high mixes. 3D printing has significantly reduced our time-to-market process, says CEO and founder Allan Gröndahl Petersen, Monoqool. 

Conventional eyewear design and production is based on lengthy design processes and shipment from one part of the world to another, with inherent risks of delays, errors and waste, but 3D printing in collaboration with Damvig is different. Today, sketches are simply emailed to Damvig, and after test printing and quality checks they return the manufactured elements to Monoqool, who are responsible for subsequent assembly and dispatch. 

We seldom need to make adjustments to the products received from Damvig, and thanks to speedy development and production, we have a wider basis for decision. At the same time, security of supply is very high. Allan Gröndahl Petersen explains: 

– Today we can postpone production start until 2-3 months before we choose to launch new eyewear on the market. The option of keeping production close to the launch, both in terms of time and place, gives us a clear competitive edge and makes us far more agile in relation to changing fashions. That makes it easier for us to read and adapt our collections to current market trends.

A game changer: collections can easily be adapted 

3D printing not only shortens the development process considerably and reduces long-distance transport, it also allows Monoqool to increase its collection volume because the 3D printing technology has given Monoqool infinite capacity when it comes to development. 

– A new eyewear collection often comprises more than 60 different models. 3D printing gives us enormous freedom of design, says Allan Gröndahl Petersen.

Today, Monoqool can launch updated collections in new colours twice a year. This high frequency helps to strengthen the firm’s market position.

– With 3D printing, we have gained access to a value-creating experimental lab, which means that we can now launch far more shapes than previously, the Monoqool owner points out. 

He also stresses the light weight and good fit of the 3D-printed eyewear. 

– Because we can experiment, we are able to make sure that our eyewear always has a good fit for the end-user. A number of design adjustments are always required, and obviously you should never accept the first version. But unlike conventional eyewear production, 3D printing allows us to make a number of minor adjustments. That is an advantage for both retailers and end-users, Allan Gröndahl Petersen emphasises. 

Goodbye to large series: a minimum of waste with 3D printing

Fashions change, and within the eyewear sector it is not unusual that 20-30% of a collection remains unsold and must eventually be discarded. Low-cost production in low-wage countries requires large volumes. Large quantities of the same model often mean that a substantial share cannot be sold because consumers simply deselect that model in the stores. 

This familiar hunt for low-cost production and long transport chains are costly in terms of environmental impact and resources, but Monoqool does not have to worry about that. With a short time to market, it is possible to produce almost on demand. 

Thanks to the collaboration with Damvig, Monoqool can operate with a marginal buffer, and according to Allan Gröndahl Petersen that makes 3D printing a more sustainable solution – in terms of both climate and finances. 

– We want to contribute to eliminating the buy-and-throw-away culture. When we 3D print, 98% of the raw materials used for the process are reused for other 3D-printed products. In conventional eyewear production, 75-80% of the raw materials are often discarded. We do not rely on large series or long transports, which means that 3D-printed eyewear helps to reduce CO2 emissions, says Allan Gröndahl Petersen. 

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