CAD/CAM supplier Gerber Technology has expanded its Advanced Technology Center in China in anticipation of a surge in business after quota phase-out. Here, the company's top executives discuss technology uptake, production and future opportunities in China.

Earlier this month, Gerber Technology opened its newly-relocated and expanded Advanced Technology Centre (ATC) in Shanghai, China to the sound of thousands of fire crackers and the sight of American-style cheerleaders and Chinese lion dances.

The original, but outgrown, Advanced Technology Centre (ATC) was established in Shanghai in May 2000 when it was the first of its kind in Asia.

Gerber Technology has now invested more than $2 million in the new 2,500 square metre (27,000 square foot) ATC located in the ultra-modern Caohejing Hi-Tech Park in Shanghai.

In addition to the ATC, the facility will also accommodate Gerber's Engineering Technology Centre and its Shanghai-based sales and service operations.

It also acts as a showroom, housing Gerber's automated spreading and cutting systems in a factory-simulated environment, along with its plotters, computer-aided design and WebPDM products.

Industry transformation
Why this investment? "We are in the midst of one of the most profound transformations in the history of the apparel industry," explains James Arthurs, president of Gerber Technology.

"On January 1st 2005 when the World Trade Organisation abolishes trade quotas, it will be the first time in over 40 years that the industry will be unfettered by quotas: it will cause a disruption of volcanic proportions and many countries and companies will be unprepared for it.

"Apparel manufacturers will be compelled to automate in order to survive."

For the last three years China has been Gerber's second largest market internationally after the USA.

"We plan to grow our Chinese operation four-fold by 2010. This growth will be particularly rapid over the next two to three years. There are 40,000 clothing companies of a reasonable size in China, all of whom would benefit immediately from the use of CAD. So far only 5000 have automated to CAD, and 1000 of these are in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

"In total only 500 companies have invested in automated cutting. This leaves a tremendous market to aim for, excluding the extremely large and also growing non-apparel markets such as the automotive and aerospace industries.

"The number of [CAD/CAM] products produced in China specifically for the Chinese market will also increase. We are already introducing the second generation Infinity AE plotter which is twice the speed of the original, and by April 2005 we will be manufacturing both a modular style spreading system and multi-ply NC cutter within the country."

Chinese production
Steven Tang, regional vice president of Gerber's Asia-Pacific operations adds: "In May 2002 Gerber Technology launched its first product designed specifically for China - AccuMark Advanced Edition (AE) - which has helped manually-driven organisations automate pattern making, grading, marker-making and pre-cutting operations."

In May 2004 the company manufactured its first product in China - the Infinity AE inkjet plotter - through its wholly-owned subsidiary Gerber Scientific (Shanghai) Co Ltd, reducing freight expenses, shipping costs, and import duties.

Gerber Technology also supplies computer-aided design and manufacturing technology to more than 40 universities in China.

It was recently chosen as a partner in the 'Size China' project being carried out by the Apparel Cyber Tech Centre (ACTC) at the College of Textile & Garment of Guangzhou University. The ultimate goal of the 'Size China' project is to manufacture better fitting garments.

Body data is captured by 3D laser scanner and transformed into real-size Alvaform models made by Alvanon of Hong Kong/USA. The students participating in the project are being trained by a team from Institut TPC Hong Kong/Paris.

The study is supported by the central government in Beijing which has declared the profession of fashion designers to be important for China's future economy.