About PLM - How does PLM work?
Current so-called Tier 1 PLM applications work through a web-based interface that allows all parties involved in a garment's design and development to work on the same platform and communicate on a real-time basis. The software collects a product's 'spec' or DNA in a file that can be accessed by all product development agents from designer to manufacturer. Because everyone works on the same page and calendar, the technology saves time and money compared to sequential processes which involve heavy paperwork and more time to execute.
Through PLM, "everyone can see the latest version of a product, know when it's been modified or if it's been dropped from the line, avoiding manufacturing errors and improving product quality," explains Kathleen Mitford, vice president of product and market strategy at PLM software vendor PTC. By using the real-time platform, a designer can work on the details of a garment's spec while another department explores different manufacturing options for the product, hedging time, she adds.
PLM software also helps streamline sourcing. By using it, a manufacturer can quickly and easily see a product's spec to draft with a cost estimate and send a product sample to the retailer. The retailer can then review the sample and enter any modifications into the PLM system for the manufacturer to sew a final sample.
Most apparel companies do this process manually. After a garment is designed, its spec is stored in numerous Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, Adobe Illustrator and Microsoft Word documents, according to PLM vendors. "At the end, what you have is a huge folder full of separate documents related to one garment which you must then email or FedEx to the factory," says Simon Poulton, sales director at Yunique Solutions, a PLM vendor in New York. The brand must then wait for the manufacturer to supply a cost estimate and physical product sample - in other words, incurring more time and bureaucracy. In an age when fast delivery has never been more crucial, traditional manual strategies are a recipe for mistakes, he says.
"If you are a manufacturer of a certain scale you are making hundreds of garments at any point in time, all of which are at different development stages," Poulton adds. "With today's ten [apparel collection] seasons, the sheer volume of paperwork involved in these activities can cause many costly errors.
"In the past, this was accepted as part of the cost of doing business but companies are starting to realise that they can improve these processes with PLM. They are starting to embrace it."
Yunique Solution's software cuts a product's lifecycle management to 60 days from the 120-day average, Poulton boasts, echoing other software vendors who provided similar estimates.
PLM's benefits have never been more welcome in an industry that is struggling under soaring manufacturing costs and consumers' rising demand for cheaper yet more fashionable garments.
"Margins are being squeezed everywhere," Poulton claims. "Not so long ago, you could make a garment for US$1 in China and sell it for US$20 on the High Streets of Europe or North America. Now the Chinese want US$3 and the High Street will only pay US$10.