Niki Tait reports on CAD exhibits at China's International Sewing Machinery and Accessories Show 2005.

For all producers of clothing technology, China is clearly the world's greatest potential market. Indeed 5 per cent of Assyst's global business currently comes from China and this is expected to grow to 15-20 per cent over the next five years.

To secure this increase though, Assyst, like many advanced technology providers is having to adapt to the specific needs of Chinese manufacturers by offering more basic and affordable technology. Products are being adapted by stripping out the extras, using less expensive components and sourcing within China.

To address the lack of Chinese expertise in western style pattern cutting and grading, Assyst has been working with Shanghai University to develop a more automated CAD system. The resulting 'smart.pattern' is a new pattern engineering automation and mass customisation software product which takes a new approach to pattern design.

In smart.pattern many of the elementary functions that would traditionally be carried out in sequence to create a lining or a collar, for example, are combined and stored as operations such as 'create stripe line' or 'add seam allowance to selected pieces.' The macro commands can be combined to create an automatic CAD operation of any length and complexity.

According to Assyst, 20-80 per cent of the CAD tasks in pattern design and grading are repetitive and ideally suited for automation using smart.pattern. Time savings can be up to 98 per cent it says.

The use of macros with pre recorded functional sequences ensures that all work steps are carried out in a uniform fashion, and thus observe company specific operational CAD standards.

About 250 macros and modules are already available, and Assyst will continue to create new macros for users according to individual requirements. In the future, however, new macros will be available for downloading via Assyst's Internet portal.

The GerberCutter XLC7000 is made in China and aimed at the Chinese market.

Simplified CAD system
Gerber Technology serves more than 1,800 customers operating over 8,000 systems and workstations in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. It first simplified its CAD system aimed at the Chinese market in 2002, resulting in the Accumark AE.

In 2004 it launched its first Chinese produced hardware products: the Infinity AE and AE 11 plotters. Today the XLC7000 cutter, the first NC cutter to be jointly developed by the USA and China and made in China, is now available together with the new XLS50 spreader developed in Denmark and 100 per cent produced in China by Gerber.

The company is planning to widen the range of products developed for, and made in, China. Production takes place at Gerber's wholly owned subsidiary, Gerber Scientific (Shanghai) Co Ltd from both locally sourced and US made components.

The new GerberSpreader XLS50 is capable of spreading woven or knit materials from either rolls or folded packs. Accurate and consistent spread length and alignment of fabric edges enables parts to be nested close to the beginning, end, and edges of the spread. This helps eliminate end loss and optimises material utilisation. Many languages are supported, including Spanish, Chinese, and English.

Flexible enough for a wide variety of applications, the cradle fed tension free XLS50 with electronic edge and variable speed controls supports the most common spreading modes for face up one way or face to face (or zigzag) lays with the option of using the movable end catcher.

The GerberSpreader XLS50

The GerberCutter XLC7000 joins the XLS50 spreader in this new class of products designed for apparel manufacturers new to automation. The XLC7000 cuts up to 7 cm of compressed material in widths of up to 2 metres. The variable vacuum system holds materials securely in place during the cutting process, resulting in cut parts that are accurate ply to ply.

Gerber's 'Knife Intelligence' also maintains accuracy from top to bottom ply by sensing and compensating for any deflection of the knife caused by cutting difficult materials or high ply spreads.

Customised hardware
Lectra is also looking to produce hardware in China customised for the local market, although the company is keeping its plans confidential at the moment. Reduced feature and more economical CAD software packages may also become available at some stage.

Lectra already offers a spreader specifically for the Chinese market: the KW71-KW83 made by Oshima. This versatile system caters for both face up or face-to-face lays of knit and woven fabrics, and is suited to manufacturers who produce a wide range of garments. A tubular attachment can be added as an optional extra.

The Lectra VectorFashion MP9

Also new but aimed more at the global market is the VectorFashion MP9 cutting solution capable of cutting 9cm of compressed material. Specialising in the cutting of very large volumes of circular knit garments, it is suited to the production planning needs and constraints of mass production.

Equipped with Eclipse, the non-stop cutting process patented by Lectra, it also features a predictive blade compensation system, automatic delicate cutting area detection, and a flow system bristle bed conveyor with a non-stop cleaning system.

Hi-tech partnerships
PGM's CAD/CAM centre is located in Southern California in the US, and consists of a global chain of hi-tech institutes specialising in CAD/CAM solutions. PGM has set up branches and co-operative partnerships in more than 20 countries across the world.

PGM initially stepped into Shanghai in the early 1990s, co-operating with China Textile University (now called Donghua University) to offer a whole set of CAD solutions for Chinese textile and apparel companies. There are PGM branches in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Beijing, Xiamen and Qingdao and it claims to have a 35 per cent share of the Chinese CAD market.

Its latest development is the PGM-SuperJet 300 dpi plotter with high output (140 m²/hr with four print heads and 70 m²/hr with two print heads at 180 dpi), constant printing speed, high definition, and a choice of printing widths.

IMA Spa of Italy recently developed a new CAD system to integrate with its global cutting room offering. Genius CAD is modular in concept. Freestyle is for pattern drafting and grading. The distinguishing feature of this package is the option to pattern draft directly on screen. Eco mark is used for marker making; and Auto mark produces automatic markers.

IMA Genius Digi Pen

The IMA Genius Digi Pen substitutes more conventional digitiser tables with a more practical and inexpensive Logitech 'Personal Digital Pen.' In addition to the pen the kit comes complete with special transparent paper and application software which manages the data generated by the pen.

The special paper is printed with a very close net of points, invisible to the human eye, but recognisable by the camera located on the point of the pen. The pattern to be digitalised is placed under the transparent paper, and the software calculates the coordinates of the points read by the pen.

The IMA Fly, model 865.13 is a new single belt cradle spreader expressly designed for the Far East market. It is fully automatic and equipped with a touch screen multi language computer to control all spreading functions. It can spread with or without clamps at 100 metres per minute and operates an automatic braking system.

Breaking into the market
Trying to break into the Chinese market is Audaces from Brazil which claims to have more customers in South America than any other CAD company.

Its products embrace design creation, pattern development, grading, automated marker making, and technical product development with a made-to-measure option.

The method of digitisation is different to most systems. Using a 'digiflash' digital camera, the company claims a set of patterns can be digitised simultaneously, quickly and easily with automatic detection of the pattern contours and control points, and automatic rectification of any perspective or lens deformation using patented artificial intelligence techniques.

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.