3D CAD, Cloud and PLM: three new technologies revolutionising the clothing industry
The production of apparel has changed dramatically. In the past, the entire production process took an average of six weeks and contained a high percentage of rejected designs until the process was completed. In today’s world of a variety of fashion collections, international production and reduced time to market, 3D CAD, PLM and Cloud solutions have created completely new ways of computer-integrated garment manufacturing. Texprocess (4. to 7 May 2015), the leading trade fair for the processing of textile and flexible materials, will present these and other innovative software solutions for the apparel industry.
In the clothing industry of the past, we sketched a design, made patterns, produced a physical first sample garment in cloth, and then determined how it looked and fitted. Modifications were made by making physical sample after physical sample to get an acceptable look. Once approved, the entire sample making process would have to be repeated to reach an acceptable fit.
This all changed in the last twenty years, as companies have been developing virtual CAD systems, beginning with textile design, and then being able to change fabrics on a garment design. We could build up a virtual weave, change colourways or count sizes, continually being able to see the changes on a design on screen. This was extended to knits. The difficulty was to get a realistic idea of how different types of fabrics would drape in reality on a body. Add to this the idea of simulating this drape in a garment on a moving Avatar, and the complexity increased further.
At the same time body scanning was at its early stages and though this, mass sizing survey’s enabled the building of different demographic size charts and avatars detailing the actual sizes of women throughout a selection of different criteria.
3D CAD/CAM: Finally integrated into apparel production?
As all these technologies evolved, 3D CAD, commonly used in automobile, aeronautics and many other industries, began also to develop for the apparel industry and today, not only can we design a garment on a static avatar of our exact choice, we can even see how the design will look, fit and drape, and even move on an avatar walking along, or even cycling, in almost any fabric.
3D CAD certainly seems to be coming of age for the clothing industry, not surprisingly when one considers the enormous competitive benefits it can provide. Imagine being able to see how a garment looks, drapes and fits over a complete size range without ever making a sample, even before the fabric has been made. Imagine being able to try out different colours, fabrics, motifs, embroideries, fastenings, trims, to see which looks best in virtual reality. Imagine being able to discuss all this with merchandisers, technicians, sourcing, and customers in real time around the world before a sample has been made. Then being able to build a virtual range and plan store and catalogue layouts before a piece of cloth is cut. Think of the reduction in product development time and cost that will result.
The compression wear and swimwear industries have also learned how to make skin-tight pieces quickly by simply drafting shapes around a 3D model and reducing these into flat patterns, using the virtual avatar performing the virtual sport, to see the actual stresses and strains on that garment. The sizes and shapes of avatars can be changed on screen enabling a user to create a virtually unlimited number of body types by adjusting body shape, height, circumference, muscle mass, and dozens of other measurements.
Mike Elia, CEO of Gerber Technology, says: ‘3D will be a disruptive technology. Its applications are broad and will have an impact from the creative and garment development process to merchandising and e-commerce.’
Kurt Salmon, a leading consulting firm specializing in the retail and consumer products industry, states: ‘The key advantages are greater speed and innovation. 3D technology allows prototypes (Virtual Products) to be produced more quickly than ever before, enabling retailers and CPG [consumer packaged goods such as apparel]companies to be more responsive to market needs. The net result: better products.’
Tukatech, exhibitor of Texprocess Americas, adds: ‘3D apparel design software eliminates the need for trial and error in physical sampling. By creating virtual prototypes before physical samples, designs can be modified more easily, significantly shortening the sample approval process. There are a multitude of uses, from instant product customization to making flawless marketing displays’.
However the new revolution does not stop at design but embraces an ever sophisticated electronic era. Although we all recognize the need to get faster approvals for samples and to get faster production, the apparel industry also requires a major rethink from the management of product development throughout the entire lifecycle of the collection. To quote Tukatech: ‘ We have almost exhausted the cheap labour resources, however, the pressure of reducing waste continues, and everyone is reciting the same mantras, “I want it faster,” “I want it cheaper.” As there are no margins left in this business, unless technology is implemented, we will just continue chanting and nothing will change’.
PLM, Cloud and their importance for “Industry 4.0”
To enable a company to analyse its true requirements for appropriate and effective information systems, it needs to critically examine what is available in the IT field. This includes 3D virtualisation, product lifecycle management (PLM), space management, RFID, workflow management systems, e-commerce, remote monitoring, machinery, and equipment troubleshooting, warehousing, logistics and supply chain management, enterprise resource planning, multichannel, augmented reality, use of mobile devises, and an understanding of Industry 4.0 and similar projects.
Industry 4.0 is a project in the high-tech strategy of the German government, which promotes the computerization of the manufacturing industry. The goal is the intelligent factory (Smart Factory), which is characterized by adaptability, resource efficiency and ergonomics as well as the integration of customers and business partners in business and value processes. Technological basis are cyber-physical systems and the Internet of Things. In the United States, an initiative known as the “Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition” is also working on the future of manufacturing
Maybe two of the most interesting aspects to have really made their mark in the last few years and are tied to Industry 4.0 are Cloud Computing and Product Lifecycle Management. Traditionally companies have bought dedicated IT hardware, depreciated over time, and paid for software licences to cover the number of users of the different systems. With cloud computing, multiple users access a shared cloud infrastructure to retrieve and update their data without purchasing large mainframe computers or licenses for different applications, but by paying for use of the ‘cloud’ as they use it.
“In the upstream / inbound apparel supply chain, cloud-based vendor integration is one of the most interesting topics in the industry these days. PLM-systems go cloud; SCM-systems do so as well. Add to this 3rd party services of forwarders (for logistics management) and of testing institutes (quality control) with their proprietary technologies. This heterogeneous IT challenge will see the development of central integration portal or gateways that enable brands and retailers to synchronize the tasks of order -, production- , logistics – and QC management on one platform. Many vendors will increasingly refuse to use various different cloud-based systems for one brand”. Guido Brackelsberg, Managing Director, Setlog GmbH Apparel and Textile IT supplier
The clothing industry is global, the supply chain intercontinental, but by using the cloud, as with email which everyone now relies upon, businesses can gain company-wide access to all their applications and data via any inexpensive terminal or tablet linked to the Internet from anywhere, in any country, at any time. Just by paying a metered fee to a cloud computing company all access and storage of data as well as IT support is taken care of. Applications are practically limitless. With the right middleware, a cloud computing system could execute all the programs a normal computer could run from generic word processing software to customized computer programs designed for a specific company.
PLM: the lynch pin and central to a company’s control system
Cloud Computing and Product Lifecycle Management systems are closely linked together. PLM is often badged as a software system, a computer tool, but in reality it is far more than that. It is the process of managing the entire lifecycle of a product from inception, through design and manufacture, to service and disposal of manufactured products. It integrates people, data, processes and business systems, and provides a product information backbone for companies and their extended enterprise.
PLM starts before design and goes far beyond the now universally used Product Data Management or PDM. IT includes forecasting, collection planning and range building to see what designs are actually required and works through the product development stage into supply chain management and manufacturing integrating into the final distribution of the garment, whether this is though wholesale, retail, or anything else, including all the logistics involved. It is the lynch pin and central to a company’s control system.
Optitex, one of the suppliers of PLM, explains: ‘You create fewer samples, increase precision and uniformity of your product line’s fit, and drastically shorten its time-to-market; to name just a few of the benefits of introducing virtual sampling to your design process. They aren’t just good for prototyping; these simulations are excellent tools you can use for marketing and selling your products. It drastically cuts the time you have to spend on each sample, the cost associated, as well as the hassle of scheduling and organizing numerous fit sessions. No more waiting for FedEx to deliver your next sample.’
The typical fashion PLM requires data entry by several different departments within the company – as well as several different suppliers and manufacturers. The importance of accuracy of information to create a “single version of the truth” and achieve effective collaboration between all parties is critical. Instantaneous and accurate information flow between CAD, PDM, PLM, ERP, SCM, and CRP speeds the development process, reduces costs, avoids errors in production and maintains consistency in quality and fit.
A visit to Texprocess 2015 will enable companies to discuss all these issues with suppliers under one roof and see how their requirements and shortfall areas can best be addressed. Leading exhibitors of 3D CAD/CAM and PLM solutions include Gerber Technology, Human Solutions, Koppermann, Setlog, texdata and W+P Solutions. In addition, IT@Texprocess presents the latest IT-solutions for the fashion industry. In parallel, Techtextil, the leading trade fair for technical textiles and nonwovens, showcases innovative functional apparel textiles.
Background information on Messe Frankfurt
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* preliminary numbers (2014)
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