The biggest, the best, the smallest, and the most revolutionary clothing machinery developments were all on show at IMB 2006. Niki Tait visited the fair in Cologne, Germany and reports here on some of the highlights set to open up new opportunities for garment makers.
 
The triennial IMB machinery exhibition, held in Cologne, Germany, has broadened its scope and is now a showcase of technology for making up sewn products.
 
It has also maintained its reputation for the higher quality and greater innovation of its exhibits, differentiating itself from the Chinese CISMA event which is now an important venue for more basic technology used in today's garment sewing industry.
 
The biggest, the best, the smallest, the newest, and the most revolutionary - all were on show at IMB 2006.
 
Pegasus, for example, showed the WT169-08Ax356BS/UT4c/y interlock hemming machine with the smallest diameter cylinder bed in the world.
 
Sunstar, on the other hand, showed what it claims to be the biggest sewing machine in the world, the SPS/C-8050H, a double motor, independent direct drive electronically controlled pattern sewer.
 
Now producing the world's largest embroidery multi-head, ZSK's limitation on size is only affected by the container it needs to be packed in for transport. Its latest has 56 heads, six needles per head.
 
Seaming technology
Although there were hundreds of new sewing machines on view, probably the most interesting development in terms of seaming technology is the use of ultrasonics.
 
Providing complete workstation solutions, Schips AG offers both bonding and welding for outerwear, sportswear and underwear operations, the main advantage being no sewing, no thread and no holes. Seams are flat, very strong, waterproof and as elastic as the base fabric.
 
With bonding there is no limit on the fabric being bonded since the fabric type determines the glues used. Speeds equate to six metres per minute. For welding the base fabric must be synthetic, no tape is used and speeds of 12 metres per minute are normal.
 
Building on its range of base machines, Schips intends to concentrate on providing ultrasonic solutions designed for specific customers and automated operations.
 
Nähtechnologie GmbH also develops automated workstations to address specific needs and is offering ultrasonic binding for underwear.
 
Pfaff's 8310 differential feed ultrasonic welding machine recognises cross seams and thick sections and reacts with an appropriately adapted sealing strength. Although the programming of seam segments has long been a practice in the sewing industry, in the welding sector it is a real innovation.
 
Cutting and spreading
As one would expect, cutting and spreading were well represented at the show, with new versions of both exhibited by all the main suppliers.
 
IMA has now included an NC cutter 'Formula 6' in its line-up. Although late to the market in terms of computerised cutting, IMA has the advantage of being able to utilise the latest technology from initial design concept through to completion.
 
Substitutes for conventional digitising included Nhega's Nscan, which uses a wide scanner and powerful software.
 
Fed with patterns from the scanner, the software identifies each relevant line, corner, notch and hole, including the grain line, and ignores scribbles and markings. According to Nhega, it delivers a complete electronic description of the pattern piece five times faster than a digitising table.
 
Audaces DigiFlash uses digital photographs to digitise patterns with millimetre precision. It takes 45 seconds to digitise a set of six patterns that would take seven minutes on a digitiser.
 
3D Visualisation
3D Visualisation was high on the exhibitors' agenda with Browzwear International demonstrating its recently upgraded V Stitcher 3D design and visualisation tool.
 
Working in line with currently accepted operating systems, but with the aim of increasing efficiency, a joint project with the German Fraunhofer Institute for Graphic Data Processing has enabled Assyst/Bullmer to make the leap from its conventional 2D cut design (cad.assyst) to the world of 3D.
 
Using the 'Vidya' software, the pattern maker can visualise new designs on a virtual dummy in a variety of adjustable poses and examine the behaviour of the fabric on the wearer's body. The pattern maker can alter the 2D pattern pieces, and then view the alterations in 3D, allowing pattern problems to be corrected whilst still in virtual form.
 
Lectra also previewed its 3D virtual prototyping solution which is due to be released in the last quarter of 2006 after eight years of development.
 
Decorative effects
'Fuwari' is a new style of 3D embroidery that can be created using conventional multiple or single head embroidery machines and embroidery threads. Instead of the traditional flat parallel stitches, the designs stand up to 5mm vertical to fabric. Fuwari is a patented technique developed by Koma-Tech and marketed by Japanese company Shiro International.
 
Of particular interest from Barudan is the BEVY-Z1204C with a specially designed long cylinder frame giving the world's largest embroidery area for long tubular goods. Now, for the first time, cross seam embroidery of finished jeans legs is possible.
 
The Koreans have developed many specialist machines for specific types of decoration. Salli, for example, offers an electronically programmed sequin sewer as well as several ultrasonic hot-fix setters for pearl, rhinestones, rhinestuds and nail head patterning.
 
Korea's Dairo Machine Company has a heat embossing machine for creating various kinds of two dimensional designs from metal moulds.
 
Brand new to the market and developed by Impression Technology Europe, the DTG range of textile print systems is claimed to be the most cost-effective way of producing four-colour vibrant prints and solid spot colours on garments including T shirts, polos, sports shirts and caps.
 
The design can be taken from any .jpeg or .psd design file. Using piezo inkjet heads and a specially formulated DTG TEX water based textile ink, a white base for the picture is overprinted by the other three colours, thus eliminating any colour restrictions due to the base fabric or printed image.
 
The garment may need a quick pre-treatment spray and the post cure stage takes only 90 seconds.
 
Finishing tunnels
Finishing tunnels seem to be the story of the day with all pressing companies. Rotondi, Veit, Indupres and Macpi, for example, are all fighting for the largest, smallest, most versatile, highest output.
 
Veit's modular tunnel finishers average 3000 garments per hour, and can even add fresh perfume to the garment in the final stage. RFID-ready, real time finishing information can also be integrated into the user's existing IT control systems. The pre-heating chamber means steam is more efficiently absorbed.
 
Three-letter acronyms
Glancing at the stands of the IT companies it seemed that they were selling three letter acronyms rather than IT solutions to help management run their companies more efficiently.
 
All the good old standards where there and many new ones: SCM, CRM, CPM, ERP, PDM, BOL, BOM, and the list goes on to include DIF (demand influencing factors), MAP (Merchandising and Assortment Planning), BIW (Business Information Warehouse), PPW (Price Planning Workbench).
 
Now the latest appears to be PLM, or Product Lifecycle Management.
 
Essentially PLM is a tool to help a company control its collection, and the products within it, from the point of conception to the point of sale.
 
This is even before the conception of any particular design within the collection, but the planning of what the collection ought to contain and when it is due in store, and the working out and monitoring of all stages in between.
 
Maybe a less confusing name should be CLM or Collection Lifecycle Management.
 
Companies exhibiting this type of software included Gerber Technology, Infor, Lectra Systems, Option Systems Ltd, Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC), Polytropon, Porini, TXT and World Fashion Exchange (WFX).

An in-depth management briefing focusing on the main technology developments unveiled at IMB 2006 is now available to just-style members. Click here for more details.

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