3D body scanning technology has been available for industrial applications for many years. Cyberware, a company with origins going back to the early 1980’s, was among the first to launch a whole body scanner. Today, a selection of scanners are available for commercial applications and the favored systems for apparel make use of either white light (e.g. [TC]2, SymCAD) or laser technology (e.g. Human Solutions, Cyberware, Hamamatsu), which typically offer a high degree of measurement accuracy. Millimeter wave scanning systems have gained public notice recently as a result of current use within the airport security environment. With respect to apparel applications where privacy and measurement accuracy are of concern, this technology may have limited acceptance, although it is currently being used within the realm of size prediction (e.g. Intellifit – currently owned by Unique Solutions).3D body scanning technologies combine hardware for capturing three dimensional body data with software for rendering the data and extracting measurement information. While body scanning is used quite extensively within the apparel research environment, broad deployment at retail has been hampered by factors including equipment cost, machine footprint and development of made-to-measure strategies. Over time these factors have become less significant and there are currently a number of opportunities for using this kind of technology within the apparel sector.
For size prediction, key points of measure (POM’s) can be identified for a garment. Measurements extracted for an individual via the scanning process can then be compared to the body measurement specifications associated with the product. In the case of a ladies jean, points of measure for comparison may include the waist, hip, seat, thigh and inseam. Where styles are developed for specific body proportions, measurement ratios (e.g. waist/hip) can be used to direct a consumer to a specific style or fit category (e.g. a curvy or slim fitting jean). For products such as men’s tailored shirts, measurements can be extracted to determine dimensions for collar and sleeve length. The process can also be developed to direct customers to specific shirt styles (e.g. full or tapered) and body lengths (e.g. regular or tall).At the size prediction level, one of the primary challenges for implementation relates to consumer preference as an aspect of “best fit”. Given similar body dimensions and shape, two consumers may select different sizes as their “best fitting garment”. This issue can be particularly important for lower body garments, where variation can be common in terms of preferred garment ease and perception of comfort. In some instances the issue can be partially addressed through fabric selection (e.g. cotton/lycra blends for denim bottoms) and directing consumers to styles based on fit preference (e.g. loose vs. slim fitting bottoms).
Measurements extracted from 3D body scans can also inform a fit customization strategy, which generally involves altering existing patterns in reference to key body measurement inputs. Once obtained, the measurements are imported into made-to-measure software within the apparel CAD suite. Here, points of measure derived from the scan are compared to body measurements associated with the graded patterns for a product. In the case of a ladies jean, the largest circumference measurement (e.g. hip or seat) can be used to select the pattern size to alter. Once the size has been selected, pattern alterations are activated in response to discrepancies between the body measurements of the subject and the body measurement specification for the pattern.The alterations are automatically executed based on alteration rules that are set-up by a user in the CAD system. These rules are similar to grade rules in that they denote X,Y movements of points along the pattern contours. Simply stated, the rules indicate when to move a point as well as how much to move and in what direction. The greatest challenge in executing a made-to-measure scenario typically relates to the development and testing of the alteration rules to ensure optimal results. Thus companies that have a strong background in fit customization and/or are willing to invest in development and testing of alternation rules are most likely to succeed. A successful alterations scenario supports both improved garment fit for a variety of scan subjects and manufacturability in terms of the shape and dimension of the custom pattern generated.
Body Modeling and Virtual Fashion
In addition to size prediction and made-to-measure, 3D body scanning is also a technology that can be harnessed for the development of body models and avatars for virtual fashion. As a true 3D technology, scanning systems support the acquisition of whole body data that can be surfaced and visualized for fashion, health and fitness, medical, animation, gaming, social media, product engineering and ergonomic applications. For virtual fashion, technology development challenges include the creation of low cost and real time solutions for the generation of life-like models that are accurate representations of individual consumers. Future posts will describe some of the technology strategies currently being explored in this area.
Historically, developers of apparel products have had limited data available to support the development of sizing strategies. As a result, issues related to garment fit and sizing have been a challenge for consumers, product developers, brand owners and retailers alike. On the up side, 3D body scanning technologies are playing a key role in the efficient execution of body measurement surveys with projects having been initiated in countries including the UK, USA, France, Germany, Thailand, Korea and Mexico.
3D body scanning technology has made it feasible to measure large numbers of subjects in a comparatively short period of time. The SizeUSA study took approximately one year to execute and involved scanning over 10,000 individuals across ten U.S. locations. When accompanied by demographic information related to gender, age, ethnicity, income and geographic location the measurement data can be a valuable resource for companies that wish to better serve their target populations in terms of garment fit and sizing strategies. While the studies listed have been focused on adult populations primarily, a national children’s survey was recently completed in the UK and preliminary results for this survey are now becoming available.
Look for future posts to delve into the topics of low cost body scanning and virtual fashion in greater detail. In the meantime, visit the reference area of the technology section for links to additional information on technologies identified in this blog.