Amazon was awarded a patent yesterday for an on-demand manufacturing system designed to quickly produce clothing - and other products - only after a customer order is placed.
The computerized system would include textile printers, cutters and an assembly line, as well as cameras designed to snap images of garments that would provide feedback on alterations needed in subsequent items.
In order to increase efficiency, the goods would be manufactured in batches based on factors such as the customer shipping address, the patent says.
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 reads.
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.
Amazon applied for the patent in late 2015 and, whether or not such a facility is being built, is the latest sign that the e-commerce giant has its sights set on being a giant player in the clothing industry.
The company already has a tremendous apparel selection and has also started selling at least eight of its own clothing brands, representing everything from kids clothes to women’s dresses to dress shirts for men.
The inventors of this patent made it clear, however, that they believe such a system could work in other categories, such as footwear, bedding, curtains, towels and be made of materials including but not limited to paper, plastic, leather, rubber and other materials.
Amazon does have its own bedding and towel brand, called Pinzon.
Two of the inventors named in the patent are Aaron Barnet and Nancy Liang, co-founders of the 3-D printing startup Mixee Labs, who went to work at Amazon in 2015.
Last year, Amazon rolled out seven in-house fashion brands and some analysts estimate it is the biggest clothing retailer in the U.S.
In September, Amazon ran a $15 million on TV ad campaign, featuring fall fashions from Amazon.com (watch video above).
And last month, Amazon debuted “Outfit Picker” a tool that helps Prime members chose what to wear.
Amazon doesn’t comment on patents and it’s not clear how the company plans to use on-demand manufacturing, if at all.
But it does seem like a natural next step as the e-commerce giant seeks to dominate fashion retail.
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,” the patent says.
Related: Zara’s Fashion Retail Supply Chain Strategies