Bobbin World

Established alongside IMB in Cologne and JIAM in Japan as one of the three global exhibitions for apparel technology, the organisers of this year's Bobbin World could not help but be disappointed by a low visitor turnout. Unfortunate timing, which coincided with a backdrop of increased global competition, retail pressures, rising material costs and economic downturn meant that the show was a quiet affair, with technical innovations few and far between. Niki Tait and Leonie Barrie report.

If the organiser's decision to move Bobbin World from Atlanta to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida for the first time was intended to entice more overseas visitors, particularly those from Europe, the exercise must be regarded with some scepticism. Europeans, both east and west, were noticeable by their almost total absence and just 31 per cent of visiting buyers were from outside the US.

The mid-August timing, which coincided with the height of Europe's main holiday season, did not help matters either. Probably of more importance to exhibitors was the fact that the high quality buyers from Asian, Indian Ocean and African regions seen at IMB (Cologne, Germany) last year also stayed away. In essence, therefore, this was a show for the Americas - North, Central and Southern. Despite official figures showing 69 per cent of the 7,000 attendees came from the USA, even American attendance was down on expectations. According to most exhibitors, this was due to the poor financial situation in the USA and the resulting downturn in trade, which has not only affected the local market but the manufacturers worldwide who supply it.

The buyers who did attend were responding to ever-present pressures to speed up the garment supply chain, control and link global production from design to distribution -thereby improving their overall efficiency and competitiveness. Some of the recurring themes that point the direction in which international apparel companies are heading include an accelerated move to offshore sourcing, a shift away from production to buying and merchandising, an emphasis on fit not size, the trend from mass production to mass customisation, a focus on the consumer and, above all, the realisation that e-commerce is here to stay.

Concerns about economic slowdown obviously influenced attendance, but also had a direct effect on the products on show. Few exhibitors unveiled new developments since last year's IMB, and certainly not since the Italian trade show Samab which took place in March, concentrating instead on established 'good sellers.'

The role of trade shows
In such a climate it seems inevitable that equipment suppliers will start to question the validity of apparel industry trade shows, not just in the US but in Europe too. Unable

A general view of Bobbin World
to justify a small return on the considerable investment required to take part, there are signs that some of the larger players are already looking at alternative marketing tools. On the CAD side, for example, Assyst-Bullmer pulled out of the show altogether, and Nedgraphics and Koppermann were also absent. Lectra and Gerber, who normally compete for stand space, both opted for smaller displays.

As to why Assyst pulled out, Jeff Bunn, sales/general manager, Assyst-Bullmer Inc, explained: "This difficult decision was not made hastily, nor was it made without full consideration to our customers, our prospects, our associates, and the sewn products industry in which we operate. It was made with the realisation that we would prefer to take the financial outlay necessary to fund the show, and put those monies into a) developing CAD software improvements along with the development of new CAM systems to further improve upon our unique product line, and b) take an alternative approach to marketing in contrast to the traditional methods.

"In the coming months we will be scheduling regional roadshows in the United States. This will allow us to present our existing and new CAD/CAM solutions to potential customers in a 'closer to home' location. These roadshows have successfully been implemented in Germany and other countries, and it has been found that they provide a number of benefits for our marketing efforts. We will also be scheduling at least one existing customer (user) meeting per year starting in 2002. This will allow us to present new hardware/software developments to our USA customer base at our Kennesaw, Georgia facility."

New product launchpad
Although times are tough and customers nervous, now more than ever is the time for apparel manufacturers and vendors to step back and review their processes and the fundamental ways in which they work. And this, of course, involves investing in the latest production technology. For those companies who chose to visit Bobbin World, several new products were launched.

Gerber Technology, for example, introduced its new web-based automatic nesting service e-NESTER. This 'pay-as-you-go' Internet-based tool enables marker makers to send unmade markers from their Gerber AccuMark or MicroMark systems via e-mail or the Internet to e-NESTER to be completed automatically. Designed for businesses that produce fewer than 50 markers per week, find it difficult to recruit skilled marker makers, or are simply searching for a way to smooth typical peaks and valleys in marker making workflow, markers are made using Nester and returned as they are completed - with impressive material efficiencies. Users can submit most types of markers, although tubular and matched fabrics are not yet supported in this version.

The company also launched its latest generation of Synchron GerberSpreaders. Highlights include a new, interactive operator panel that prompts the user for spreading data, built-in spreader settings for 10 typical fabric types, and memory capacity for 15 additional customised settings. The Synchron's cutting device has been redesigned to operate faster and cut material in both directions.

To quote Yvonne Heinen, European marketing manager for Gerber Technology: "At Bobbin we have focused on communication across long distances. To tie in with this strategy one of the products we are showing is our latest version of PDM, V3.9, which enables improved Internet communication between partners. The other area we concentrated on was high efficiency CAD, exampled in PDS 2000 by hem length manipulation: alter the hem length on one piece and it is automatically increased on all associated pieces. High efficiency, though, does not just reflect labour, but also fabric utilisation, and hence, in addition to e-nester we are also concentrating on software such as Gerber Planner, Optimizer and the new Taurus nesting upgrade SimulNEST. With competition getting tighter, customers realise that any saving in fabric use is crucial."

To complement the promotion of LectraOnline, which combines CAD/CAM, virtual reality and the Internet, Lectra launched its second version of Gallery, which has been developed to improve staff planning functionality and provide better coverage of the prototyping process to reduce cost and potential errors. The company also showed the third version of 3DVM which features a database that has been converted to Oracle for easier CAD integration, and improved drag drop capability and easier control on retail assortments.

Lecrta's Vector Denim

Completely new, though, was Vector Denim, an extension of the Vector cutter range specially adapted for cutting denim, twill, canvas and other tough fabrics. At 5 cm compressed height equating to 60 plies of 14 ounce denim, and using a 'high performance quality cut system' with blade deflection controller which automatically analyses cut conditions in real time and consequently optimises the cut path, Lectra claims this to be the most productive jeans cutter on the market. An output of between 800-1200 five-pocket jeans per hour is said to be possible.

True to life modelling
The most impressive CAD development launched at Bobbin World came from Browzwear. Already in use at Benetton, its virtual stitching technology, V-Stitcher, transforms 2D patterns into life-like 3D simulations of completed garments with multi-size grading over a virtual body. Based on the output of all industry standard CAD packages, as the 2D pattern is modified an immediate 'picture perfect' 3D display of the garment appears on-screen in real time. Modifications can also be communicated over the Internet for immediate viewing and approval.

Screen shot from Browzwear's V-Stitcher

Texture mapping capabilities enable photo quality representation of fabric, seams, prints and colours, while changing the fabric characteristics from, say, chiffon to a heavy knit, results in virtual draping behaviour that replicates the real thing. The 3D model can be viewed to 360°, and it is possible to zoom in on the garments to see fabric or stitching detail in close-up.

Browzewear's president Yanir Farber told just-style.com: "It is obvious that the industry is looking for solutions like the V-Stitcher which will reduce design process cycle time and costs by improving the pre-production process and streamlining communication between an organisation and its sub-contractors."

A second product from Browzwear, C-me, addresses virtual reality in the B-to-C (business to consumer) environment by allowing Internet shoppers to dress their own virtual 3D image with true-to-life garments. Individuals' measurements are added on their own PC, not over the Internet, assuring 100 per cent total privacy for consumers. For retailers such as XOXO and Ellandale who are already using this software on their websites, Yanir Farber explained that it can "improve the shopping experience and help reduce returns."

Garment design software also featured prominently on the Investronica stand - where Browzwear had its own exhibit - in the form of Investronica Sistemas' own 3D Fashion Builder. Resulting from 10 years' research, Fashion Builder combines 2D design methods with 3D virtual display techniques and can be used to help companies reduce the time to market and enhance the creative process. The Body Garment 3D design tool enables styles to be created on 3D virtual mannequins and then translated into their corresponding 2D patterns via the PGSmodel function. DressingSim, a simulation tool adapted for the apparel industry by Investronica and Toyobo, 'sews' the patterns on the 3D model to check the accuracy of the finished garment.

Another 3D virtual modelling tool that can be used to visualise garments on life-like models came from Scanvec Garment Systems (SGS). Its 'VIP in 3D' (virtual interactive modelling) can be accessed quickly and easily through common web browsers via SGS's 3D viewer module. Complementing VIP in 3D is the Stotcher module which enables 2D patterns from any CAD system to be 'sewn' onto the virtual model. Once the draping has been completed, the fit can be inspected by rotating the model in all directions, and the seams inspected in close-up. For an even more realistic view of the finished product, fabric designs can also be texture mapped onto the 3D avatar.

Having already opened 23 TukaCenters around the world in counties such as the USA, India, Vietnam, Dominican Republic and Canada, Tukatech Inc's Ram Sareen said he intends to increase this to a total of 250 by the end of 2002. Tukatech is counting on its TukaWeb and TukaCenters to enable it to become an international business-to-business (B2B) service provider combining critical apparel industry applications as an Application Service Provider (ASP) with a planned worldwide network of bricks and mortar service centres in strategic locations.

In conjunction with Scanvec Garment Systems (SGS), TukaWeb will offer a full suite of technical CAD applications (pattern design, marker making and pattern grading, auto nesting, made-to-measure patterns, optimisation and data interchange) and services (buyer / seller introduction, communication, job requirements posting, machinery and equipment sales, industry news).

The new Synchron spreader from Gerber Technology

TukaWeb thus provides a type of web-based bureau service providing this technology on a pay-as-you-use basis with free on-line training, while its bricks and mortar centres provide additional training and CAD facilities plus the ability to print out full size patterns, grades and markers. Discussions are currently taking place with distributors such as UPS, Fed Ex and DHL for these companies to hold full size plotters for local printing and delivery to the customer.

Explaining its mission, the company said: "There are thousands of apparel designers around the world who are constrained by limited access to software applications and workstations, printing and plotting facilities, marking and grading systems, market optimisation systems, access to production facilities, and access to potential distributors and retailers for their designs. Although CAD systems (workstation, digitiser and plotter) cost less than $30,000, more than 70 per cent of the manufacturers around the world cannot afford a basic CAD system. Besides being very expensive for buyers in Asia and emerging countries, as well as small companies throughout the world, the biggest fear is data compatibility with other CAD systems. With TukaCAD's open system architecture, buyers and sellers are able to communicate electronically."

Acquisition announcement
Freeborders, a leading provider of Collaborative Product Management (CPM) solutions for the global retail industry, took advantage of Bobbin World to announce the acquisition of Karat Software Corporation, the Canadian developer of interactive product development management (iPDM) solutions.

Karat's customers include Gap, Target, Ann Taylor, Coach, Williams-Sonoma, Eddie Bauer, Woolrich, Gymboree, J Crew, Saks, and Levi Strauss & Co and the acquisition of its product design and development software will enhance Freeborders' CPM solution which promises to cut costs and boost efficiency by providing an online collaborative platform for buyers and suppliers who are often thousands of miles apart. The deal also gives Freeborders a dominant share of the design and development solutions market for leading retailers.

The company also announced that it has pulled in an additional $9 million in venture funding - bringing its total capitalisation so far to $42 million. Most of the new capital has been earmarked for research and development on its next generation of supply chain management software. And central to this development drive are the design capabilities picked up from Karat.

Taking the corporate theme of 'Dressed for Success' to a new level, Intentia's executives caused a bit of a stir by turning up in eveningwear. Their intention, though, was to highlight the fact that Movex Fashion, the company's flagship enterprise business application, can help manufacturers and distributors in the apparel and footwear industries improve their internal and external business operations. Supply chain collaboration was a key theme, and new applications such as Movex Demand Planner and Movex Multi-Site Planner (which helps to synchronise order and material flow throughout the supply chain) were demonstrated at the show.

According to Intentia's fashion industry director Robert McKee, supply chain management and collaboration are key to competitive advantage. "From high fashion to consumer packaged goods, companies in this industry are being challenged by issues that include global sourcing, multi-plant production, seasonality, short product life cycles and long lead times, production bottlenecks and cash flow constraints," he said, adding that: "With ERP as their business backbone, companies can now deploy powerful e-collaboration solutions that ling far-flung suppliers, business partners and customers to achieve supply chain visibility, streamlined operations, and improved profitability and customer satisfaction."

Two new systems have considerably enhanced Fast React's pre-production and production planning and scheduling tool Fastreact Enterprise. Fastreact Evolution provides all the features and benefits of Fastreact Enterprise but can also be used with a very simple set-up for fully-factored, 'hands-off' sourcing. Manufacturers may want to use the original cascaded planning board set-up for multi-constraint (vertically integrated) manufacturing, but can also model high and low level planning to link central and remote planning systems.

Fastreact Evolution, in turn, forms the basis of the new Fastreact APS system. This provides an advanced engine that takes care of complex calculations in a way that is impossible manually, automating the whole planning system according to specific user-defined rules. It has been developed to cater for situations where there are extremely large order volumes, very complex and fluid materials requirements, dramatic shifts in forecast and planned activity, and data from multiple sources.

FK Group's automatic spreader

For Essentus International, the show offered a chance to reveal updates to its Vision and Express modules. Essentus Vision 2.3 provides large, tier one and tier two importers, manufacturers and distributors with better communication and faster time to market by giving visibility at every step of the production process. And because production teams manage by exception, anticipating customer changes and responding in real time, procurement can be accelerated. The web-enabled Essentus Express 2.2 software suite offers importers, manufacturers and distributors greater visibility and control over their supply chain, and has been enhanced with new scroll and click menus and a link to the Business Objects report generating application.

Going global
One company to watch going forward must be the Italian FK Group. Although this cutting room solutions provider is over 20 years old, with a 30 per cent market share within Italy, it has never built a strong international presence. However, the company has recently been restructured, and newly-appointed sales and marketing director Aldo Moscaroli is likely to expand the FK Group around the world in the same way he did with Vi.Bi.Mac, the specialist jeans sewing machine builder. Already supplying a wide range of cutting equipment (30 different models and sub-classes of spreader, for example) and with a new NC cutter, spreaders and Windows-based CAD upgrades recently launched at Samab, this range has been complemented by the launch at Bobbin of new Cut2000 software which is more interactive with the cutting operator and easier use.

In terms of sewing equipment a few developments were launched at the show and, as has become normal at international fairs, there was a vast amount of Chinese machinery on show.

These machines are certainly becoming more interesting. The China Feiyue Sewing Machinery Corporation, for example, produces one million machines a year, of which 80 per cent are exported, mainly to eastern Europe, particularly Russia, Bulgaria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Ukraine, the American continent (20 per cent of total output value is sold in Mexico, USA and Canada), Asia and South Africa. With machines badged as 'Yamata' in the western world, these should not be confused with Yamato - which many outwardly closely resemble.

Singer was back, albeit totally restructured. The Japanese production unit has been closed, the corporate headquarters located in New York with a European office in Italy, and central sourcing is carried out from its Asia office. Singer no longer produces any machines of its own but is sourcing from Japan, China and Taiwan against requirements and putting a Singer badge on the resulting equipment. Hence these could be from any of the many Chinese manufacturers.

SWF quilting embroidery machine closeup
(SWF/B-WS(X)-68AFC)

The Korean machine ranges are becoming more versatile. Sunstar, for example, has introduced direct drive, electronically controlled button sewing (SPS/B-B1202), buttonholing (SPS/B-BH3000) and bar-tacking (SPS/B-B1201) to its line-up. Siruba has a new 130 x 60 mm profile stitcher (PK566); and SWF a three-needle, multi-head (up to 28 heads) machine (SWF/B-WS(X)-68AFC series) which quilts and embroiders in one application.

In terms of new innovation, Brother has developed the BE-0701-0 seven-needle, single-head, single-thread chainstitch automatic tufting/loop pile machine for producing decorative effects.

Tajima's flat production and bridge cylinder TFGN embroidery machines made their first public outing at Bobbin World. Designed for large production runs, speed has been increased to 1,100 spm, and memory capacity raised to 1 million stitches (expandable to 2 million stitches) accommodating up to 159 designs. The units can sew up to 15 colours on a wide range of flat fabrics and finished goods such as caps and jackets, while a continuous design function is suitable for extra-large embroidery of up to 7,200 mm.

Starting the day before the exhibition and continuing throughout its duration, a wide range of workshops covered many aspects of information technology, product embellishment, supply chain and manufacturing management. There was also a series of interesting 'International Outlooks' providing sourcing details on several counties including Mexico, Vietnam, and Jamaica.

The next Bobbin World is scheduled for 2004 in Orlando.

Niki Tait, C.Text FTI, FCFI heads Apparel Solutions, which provides independent assistance to the apparel industry in the areas of manufacturing methods, industrial engineering, information technology, and quick response.

Leonie Barrie is managing editor of just-style.com