Could Amazon be gearing up to revolutionize apparel manufacturing? Perhaps. Last week, the Seattle-based e-commerce firm earned a patent for an on-demand manufacturing system that would create apparel – and potentially other products, too – after an order has been placed.
According to the patent, the computerized system could capture orders from anywhere on the planet and then swiftly develop the most efficient plan for producing and providing the clothing. Factors that could go into determining the most efficient means of fulfillment could include geographic location, fabric type, assembly process and more.
“Once various textile products are printed, cut and assembled according to the orders, they can be processed through a quality check, photographed for placement in an electronic commerce system, shipped to customers and/or stored in a materials handling facility for order fulfillment,” the patent says. “By aggregating orders from various geographic locations and coordinating apparel assembly processes on a large scale, the embodiments provide new ways to increase efficiency in apparel manufacturing.”
And perhaps not just apparel manufacturing.
The patent states that the on-demand system that Amazon is contemplating could be used to produce footwear, bedding, curtains, towels and accessories like scarves, hats, bags and belts in a range of materials, including paper, plastic, leather, rubber and more.
Still, exactly what Amazon intends for the system remains unclear – a mystery fueled, in part, by the fact that the company doesn’t comment on patents. Digital Trends speculates that the on-demand system could enable Amazon to fabricate clothing at plants nearest to ordering customers and to then deliver the item(s) the same day or the next day. “In big cities, it is not inconceivable that you might decide to go out right after work, order some new custom duds by mid-afternoon, and have them delivered freshly pressed and hung at your workplace by closing time,” wrote Bruce Brown of Digital Trends.
Meanwhile, other analysts take a different view. “It’s exciting to think that we could choose our print, cut and make of clothing and then have somebody deliver our choice to our doorstep,” a Yahoo! Finance article states. “But that is likely not Amazon’s intention because it won’t help drive efficiency or lower cost, and would most definitely be a very cumbersome project.”
Rather, the article continues, Amazon could be planning to use the system to offer more efficient, cost-effective, customer-satisfying service to the third-party sellers that use its Fulfilled by Amazon service. Amazon might also be looking to use the system to expand the domestic and global reach of its apparel selection, which includes at least eight in-house brands, with items for men, women and children. Some analysts predict that Amazon could become the U.S.’s largest clothing retailer as early as this year.
Amazon applied for the patent for the on-demand manufacturing system in late 2015. The brains behind the creation are Aaron Barnet and Nancy Liang. They’re co-founders of Mixee Labs, a 3-D printing startup that Amazon purchased in February of 2015.