A Breakaway: Athletic Knit Revolutionizes Jersey Making with Array

Leveraging the advantages of additive manufacturing, Athletic Knit is innovating on an integral part of their current jersey production process; the manufacturing of custom name bars, logos, letters, and numbers. Traditionally, these elements undergo a labor-intensive, multi-step sewing process using twill materials. Through collaboration with the Mosaic Solutions team, they have identified opportunities to overcome the constraints of conventional methods while enhancing throughput, employing resilient fabric-like materials, and reducing costs.

Mosaic and Athletic Knit

Athletic Knit stands as an industry-leading manufacturer of premium athletic team uniforms and apparel. Established in 1962, the company operates from a cutting-edge 150,000 square foot facility in Toronto, Canada. Renowned for superior quality, service, and reliability, Athletic Knit (AK) embodies these values in every aspect of its operations.

Our partnership with Athletic Knit, initiated in 2017, was driven by a shared vision between Mosaic and AK teams to leverage additive manufacturing's technological advancements. The primary objective was to enhance production throughput and address pain points in the traditional sewing process while upholding AK's high standards for jersey quality. Embracing an additive solution could allow AK to meet escalating customer demands for customizable jerseys with shorter lead times. In 2019, AK introduced an integrated automated customization and quoting web tool to facilitate seamless customer experiences. However, to realize the full potential of digital ordering, modernizing the production process became critical.

By 2020, the collaboration had led to the development of several pioneering solutions. Among them was Array, Mosaic’s automated production solution, poised to revolutionize the landscape of 3D printing on the factory floor and addressing all the criteria outlined by AK to modernize production processes.

Array introduced a cutting-edge 3D printing system, offering not only a scalable in-house solution for mass-producing jersey decorations but also promising significant long-term cost reduction, enhanced throughput, and streamlined production management with Canvas. Another significant challenge was replicating the look and feel of traditional twill using FFF materials, given their inherent sheen and visible layer lines, which AK considered a major drawback for the end-user experience. This led to the second breakthrough solution, Mosaic Stitch (formerly Mosaic E-Twill), addressing this challenge head-on, making it a reality.

Athletic Knit’s Conventional Production Process - Embroidered Twill

Fabric materials form the base layer of most jerseys, while decorations, including logos, name bars, and lettering/numbering, add customization. Traditionally, these elements are crafted from layers of twill or other fabric material, necessitating intricate sewing processes. Each jersey may feature up to 7 custom decorations, further adding complexity to the production process.

  1. Blank jersey sewn to customer spec  
  2. Embroidered twill decoration created using laser cutter + sewing 
  3. Embroidered twill decorations attached to jersey.

Many of these decorations are further customized with distinct regions of differing textures and colors with separate colors requiring sewing to occur in multiple layers. Athletic Knit's current labor intensive process requires both a laser cutter to cut individual layers of twill and an operator to align and sew these layers together in a precise consistent way.

Jersey logo with several stacked layers of cut fabric and embroidery

It’s from that laborious process that Mosaic and AK sees an area for improvement, not only increasing  the number of decorations made in a single day, but also better meeting customer demand for greater customization without adding risk, workflow complexity or cost.

A Cursory Glance at Array and the Potential of 3D Printing Fabric

A notable feature of Array is its capacity to produce parts comprising multiple materials and colors seamlessly. Unlike traditional FFF 3D printers, most of which are unable to fulfill the multicolor requirements, Array accomplishes this automatically in a single print. Through its multi-filament printing capability, Array empowers AK to reliably replicate both the color and embossed 3D characteristics of traditional embroidered twill manufacturing. Moreover, Array's automation enhances efficiency by eliminating the necessity for manual thread and spool changes, further streamlining material management.

Although adopting FFF would provide important financial and production implications, the goal of maintaining Athletic Knit’s mantra of providing superior quality and durability is ever present. The FFF printed part would have to rival the traditional embroidered twill decoration in both aesthetic and structural quality. Through working with the Mosaic Solutions’ team, AK and Mosaic were able to hit this high quality bar:

Prototype jersey, with a number, logo and name-bar made with Array and Mosaic Materials

Incorporating Array into the AK Workflow 

Mosaic and Athletic Knit identified two critical steps in AK’s current production process as opportunities for throughput improvement. The goal is to adapt the production process to incorporate Array in the most efficient manner possible. With that in mind, we have identified a production method using an Array that will remove the bottlenecks while maintaining the key factors of AKs product line: quality and durability.

Array Method

This approach removes a bottleneck created by sewing together the many layers of fabric that form the base of each name bar, and leverages AK’s understanding of the most effective traditional sewing aspects of their workflow. From a cost perspective, saving the sewing step directly results in a reduction of multiple days of labor for AK’s machine operators. These labor hours can then be re-allocated to other steps of the manufacturing process, and address other chokepoints in AK’s overall factory throughput.


One of the core benefits AK has in using an Array is that the normally time-consuming, layered fabric approach to developing embossed letters, logos and name bars is now a single, fully automated printing process, changing a process involving multiple machines to a single machine. 

Layered logo decorations printed in multiple colors on an Array

The previously highlighted layers are created by making the typical micro adjustments to the printhead and the various color requirements met with Array’s automatic filament changing. This also keeps the door open for greater flexibility in manufacturing and product customization. 

Working with FFF Materials

Although plastics are the first thing that comes to mind when considering FFF, the Mosaic Solutions team has worked hand-in-hand with the AK production team, and several material development partners in order to print, prototype, and test a wide variety of materials and find the ideal solution. One of the biggest challenges in using FFF materials is being able to recreate the look and feel of traditional twill, as FFF materials typically have a high sheen and visible layer lines that AK considered a nonstarter for this use case.

For a digital printing process to be used in place of embroidery, there are many part requirements that need to be achieved:

1) Cost - If the final part's cost proves too high, widespread adoption would be impractical. Meeting this criterion entails finding a cost-effective material that can rival traditional textiles in terms of affordability within the industry.

2) Color - Mosaic solutions and AK, working together, now have a selection of 18 core materials that can be used, with up to 8 materials per part. This multi-color aspect is unique to Mosaic, as Mosaic’s team leverages their Palette X technology to accomplish multi-color output without operation intervention.

3) Cosmetics - The premium quality of this component is closely associated with the textured embroidery feel. Achieving a printed part that mirrors the look and feel of fabric posed a significant challenge, which the teams successfully addressed through the development of a custom material (Mosaic Stitch), coupled with extensive testing and software optimizations.

4) Sewability - Mosaic Solutions and Athletic Knit required the final part to be integrated into a jersey through sewing. This necessitated the development of extended testing and specific geometry to address the material stresses induced during sewing.

5) Repeatability - When producing numerous parts across multiple printers within Array, ensuring consistency between each part is essential.

6) Inner part adhesion - It's crucial for the letters to adhere to the substrate just like they would through sewing. Any risk of letters peeling or detaching could lead to substantial support problems and replacement expenses for AK.

7) In-service durability - Both the printed parts and the final product must withstand numerous washer and dryer tests to guarantee that there is no degradation of the components or the end product.

8) Flexibility - Given the dynamic movements involved in athletic activities, flexibility is paramount for jersey components to accommodate the wearer's motions comfortably. Ensuring that the printed parts exhibit sufficient flexibility without compromising on structural integrity is essential to meet the demands of athletes during gameplay.

From the outset, Mosaic and AK discovered that the existing materials compatible with FFF systems failed to meet the specified criteria. Despite evaluating hundreds of materials, none proved to be suitable. Flexible options like TPE were considered, offering a matte texture similar to twill. However, TPE presented a notable drawback - susceptibility to scratching and discoloration over time, raising durability issues, especially washing machine and dryer cycles. Given the rigorous demands of hockey, logos and name bars were vulnerable to damage after just a single game. While TPU, an alternative to TPE, addressed durability concerns, its tendency to display visible tool marks and a plastic-like appearance rendered it unsuitable for this application. Consequently, both Mosaic and Athletic agreed that the currently available printing materials did not meet the aesthetic requirements for jersey decorations.

Introducing Mosaic Stitch (Formerly E-Twill)

The Mosaic Solutions team collaborated with our materials development partners to create a flexible material tailored to mimic the texture and appearance of fabric. After extensive testing across various polymer families, we identified a material possessing the necessary properties. This material offers the flexibility typical of its counterparts, along with high color accuracy and a matte finish closely resembling fabric. Its unique thread-like durability and appearance, particularly when stretched and bent, make it an ideal alternative to twill fabric. By optimizing the production process for this material, we achieved a level of parity where experts at AK now perceive the printed twill parts as remarkably similar to traditional ones. This achievement signifies overcoming one of the most challenging aspects of the project for both Mosaic Solutions and AK teams. The quality of the output parts from the 3D printer meets their exact specifications for the first time. Mosaic Stitch represents a significant innovation not previously seen in the offerings of other 3D printing manufacturers.

Above: Close up of a jersey name bar printed using Mosaic Materials E-twil Filament

Please note that Mosaic Stitch (formerly E-Twill) is not directly available for sale to the public, if you have an application and are interested in discussing the use of Mosaic Stitch, please contact us at solutions@mosaicmfg.com.

Cost Savings and Throughput increase with Array

Athletic Knit and the Mosaic Solutions team worked together on a feasibility study to determine what the results of implementing Array in AK’s manufacturing process would be.

Comparing Array With Traditional Workflows

When looking at the tangible benefits of incorporating Array into the AK workflow, we can see that not only does it reduce operator load and labor hours required, it lowers the cost per part and massively improves the overall throughput of the traditional embroidered twill production process.

By investing in automated equipment like Array and removing their Multi-layer sewing bottleneck, AK has the potential to reduce the number of required operators for this part of their manufacturing process by nearly half. This frees up workforce resources allowing these workers to focus on other tasks within the AK’s operation, effectively creating an additional means of increasing production throughput.

This brings AK’s total cost per part down by between 30%-50%.

Reducing Bottlenecked Labor Hours

Although we have already highlighted the production benefits of using Array within their workflow, a more in-depth look at how the new method compares to the traditional one on a numbers basis, helps underscore the benefit AK sees in increasing throughput and reducing labour hours and costs.

The traditional process requires a number of operators working multiple days and a sizable chunk of their daily labor hours in order to generate AK’s required throughput. The vast majority of these labor hours are in the previously highlighted bottlenecks of Sewing/Laser Cutting and the final Sewing Machine Step.

Increasing Production Throughput

One of the greatest changes Array brings to the AK workflow is its ability to run autonomously without any operator interaction. Unlike their sewing machine, which requires constant monitoring from an operator and cannot run on weekends or in the evenings, Array is self-sufficient and can run continuously for all 7 days of the week. And while daily production output remains the same, those two extra days of operation translate directly to an output of millions of decorations, and subsequently, thousands of additional jerseys, when compared to the old process.

In terms of production numbers, this is a 60% increase in throughput. 

Project Management with Canvas

Based on Mosaic’s core Canvas software, Canvas Array streamlines the file preparation process from customer order to production on the factory floor. This easy to use solution allows AK’s customers to design custom jerseys through their website customizer and automatically translate this to a file suitable for Array to produce. Canvas Array also provides a robust print queuing platform that allows AK to manage anywhere from one, to hundreds of print jobs, scaling to the workflow demand as needed.

Canvas Array’s remote management of Array means operators don’t necessarily need to be onsite to get a job started. This not only rounds out the entire value proposition of Array, but gives both AK and their customers a layer of flexibility and usability that speeds up the entire jersey ordering process and could have a number of additional uses in other production systems.


Canvas Array simplifies project management to make the most of the AK workforce

Looking at the Future

AK is in line to begin on site scaling and testing before expanding to full jersey production. While Athletic Knit sees Array as a means to modernize their supply chain in the immediate future, they also recognize that Array’s longer term production advantages mean they could expand the application beyond just the smaller logos on jerseys and product larger panels or even offer new products specifically built around these newfound advantages.

Scalable production capacity on that same initial investment means Athletic Knit can not only grow their workflow with their machines, they can also replace offshore bulk order components with those produced in-house. This re-shoring and shift to digital manufacturing will give greater flexibility in their manufacturing processes.

Interested in learning how Array can modernize your supply chain, helping cut costs and improve throughput? Drop us a line at solutions@mosaicmfg.com to get in touch with our Applications Engineering team, or fill in the form using the 'Inquire' button below:

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