Billed as 'Three Great Events, One Great Location,' SPESA Expo, Material World and Technology Solutions, together with their associated conferences, lived up to expectations. Niki Tait reviews some of the highlights on show.

Co-hosted by AAFA (the American Apparel and Footwear Association) together with SPESA (the Sewn Products Equipment and Suppliers of the Americas), the combined SPESA Expo, Material World and Technology Solutions was a great success.

Each of the three shows held simultaneous and complementary conferences, the overriding theme of which was the need for full package.

Offshore manufacturers can no longer survive as CMT-style contractors. Instead, design, pre-production, fabric sourcing, quality control, manufacturing, logistics and distribution will now be a prerequisite of all suppliers going forward in the post-quota era. Indeed, the more services a manufacturer provides the more attractive and competitive it will be.

For many companies this already includes independent quality and ethical compliance monitoring, vendor managed inventories, research and technical development, individual customer store delivery and much more.

To reflect this need the combined show was itself offering the full package. Material World addressed fabric, trim and accessory sourcing as well as full product sourcing, with most of the garment manufacturers located in country or area pavilions. These included Peru, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Columbia and Mexico.

Technology Solutions straddled Material World and SPESA Expo with exhibitors providing specialist systems to address specific needs. These included Fast React's graphical solutions for production planning, critical path tracking and offshore sourcing; eWarna's online colour collaboration software; and GSD, a standard minute based management technique, control and information system for improving productivity and productivity. There were also those providing full-blown total business ERP solutions such as SAP.

Within SPESA Expo there was also something for everyone, ranging from the leading CAD suppliers to materials handing, a limited range of pressing and finishing systems, and sewing machinery from all the international suppliers. There was a particularly large contingent of Chinese sewing machinery companies whose range and quality appears to improve year-on-year.

Accumark V-stitcher avatar

On show
In terms of exhibitors, Gerber Technology promoted the full package concept with a range that embraces everything from 3D garment design and visualisation, to unit production through the manufacturing arena.

James Arthurs, CEO of Gerber Technology explained: "Gerber is not trying to be all things to all people. We will concentrate on our core products, namely AccuMark and PDM, making them easier to use, more intuitive, more flexible. We will also concentrate on pattern design, grading and marker making, plus cutting and spreading.

"However, we will continue to create alliances and partnerships to provide additional offerings in specialised areas, enabling our partners to also concentrate on what they do best."

Indeed Gerber has developed a software interface that enables seamless integration between its AccuMark pattern design software and Browzwear's V-stitcher application. This in turn reduces product approval and production times by enabling the entire supply chain to visualise products accurately and share inputs simultaneously without having to create as many product samples.

Gerber's own Web PDM has recently been upgraded to Version 4.1 and now offers expanded browser capability giving remote users access to the most current product data from any Internet-ready computer.

Using SPESA as a platform to exhibit both the Lectra and Investronica product ranges, Lectra also used the show as the launch pad for Mikalis, its new software tool for the production of apparel specifications.

Mikalis, developed for apparel brands, retailers, distributors and manufacturers, is a single plug and play solution that allows the user to create sketches, develop technical specification sheets and folders and then communicate the information through a secure web interface.

Assyst Bullmer is taking a rather different approach to customer solutions. Uptake of Automarker.com, its Internet-based automated marker making solution, is now growing steadily, with the largest customer base being in China. Users can upload pattern pieces, marking rules and cut order plans, then download automatically-made markers as plot or cut files anywhere in the world.

Assyst is now making more of its software available for use over the Internet. A logical progression is cut order planning whereby customers upload the parameter and order details and the optimal cut plan is produced automatically. Its product data management program pdm.assyst is also available online.

Thomas Heinrich, Assyst Bullmer's managing director wants online cad.assyst to be available within the next 24 months and as groundwork for this Assyst is automating as many CAD functions as possible.

As he explains: "The beauty of making our software available online is the customer has no upkeep, no maintenance, no scaling for volume…all you need is a laptop or PC and they are available the world over."

Management control and information
The new GSD version 4.3 standard minute based management control and information system was released at the show. This stores an improved history audit of any changes in standard minute values for specific operations and incorporates an embedded work group messaging service.

The material costing elements can be linked with most customers' existing materials or enterprise requirements planning systems to access fabric and trim costs. Thread consumption is also part of the system, and line balancing and quality assurance aspects have been improved.   

The Veit 8410 polo shirt finisher

The distributed planning system within Fast React makes use of dial-up modem Internet links. The head office carries out the top level planning and scheduling of orders, and e-mails individual plans to each production location. The individual factories then work in secondary Fast React Systems and e-mail back the detailed plan.

This has led in part to Fast React reintroducing planning systems for smaller companies. The Fast React Light drag and drop production planning software is an alternative to spreadsheets for small to medium-sized apparel manufacturing companies. Work in progress management and simple critical path control are integrated with the production plan.

Real time production system
Switchtrack's manual hanging unit production systems have linked with SabreSuite to provide a real time production floor management system.

SabreSuite, developed by Sabre Technologies (Pvt) Ltd, helps apparel manufacturers focus on production as one single process from cutting to packing finished goods. It also links ancillary processes such as quality and machine maintenance. As a real time system it provides up-to-the-minute information across the entire business from the sewing machine operator upwards.

Useful tools incorporated in the software include table planning and fabric reconciliation for the cutting room, and skills matrix and line balancing for the sewing floor.

Stitching up the competition
In the sewing machine arena the long-running battle continues between the makers of electronic button, buttonhole and bar tackers and the new oil free or minimum oil direct drive machines.

Durkopp Adler, for example, has a totally new automatic chainstitch eyelet buttonholer, 589, with CNC step motor technology and Flexcut cutting system, for pre-programmed sewing and cutting of different buttonhole lengths and shapes without changing the cutting tools. Two cutting blocks can be set to work in automated sequence on several eyelet buttonholes for, say, the front of a jacket, and then a straight buttonhole for the lapel.

Also new from Durkopp is the 806/121 automat for sewing patch pockets onto the chest of a tubular knit front. 

Kansai Special continues to expand its range of decorative machines. The MMX 33F series for hemming and taping ladies', babies,' and children's under and sports wear can be used to attach the collar tape to a T-shirt or baby-grow whilst producing decorative stitching. The three-needle, bottom cover stitch machine utilises five cams for a variety of smocking style effects.

From Pfaff a new range of basic high speed overlock machines was introduced, made through its joint venture with Chinese sewing machine manufacturer Zoje.

Sequins as small as 3mm can now be handled by Tajima's sequin sewing attachment machine, enabling finer work to be carried out. Two sequin dispensers can be added to each head so that two colours, sizes (3-7mm) or designs can be combined within the same embroidery design.

Veit has developed a neat knitwear finisher for polo shirts, the Veit 8410. The body width can be set on an adjustable frame, and there are two interchangeable sleeve clamps for short or long sleeves. The collar is then positioned, the placket front is clamped, and an automatic cycle steams, dries and cools the shirt.

The New Avery Dennison
64-05 RFID printer

Just the ticket
Label wise, Wal-Mart is leading the RFID charge in the US. However Tesco in the UK, Metro in Germany and Target Stores in the US are also said to be fast on its heels. Current uses of RFID labels include tracking, securing and counting products throughout the supply chain.

Typical RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) systems are made up of two major components: readers and tags. The reader sends and receives RF data to and from the tag via antennae. The tag, or transponder, is made up of the microchip that stores the data, an antenna, and a carrier to which the chip and antenna are mounted.

Paxar recently introduced the Monarch 9855 RFID tabletop bar code printer which is specially designed to write to RFID chips embedded in thermal direct or thermal transfer bar code labels. The printer tests the chip, writes to the chip, then prints the human readable and bar code data.

The new high-speed 64-bit 64-05 RFID label printer from Avery Dennison is claimed to be the fastest RFID printer on the market, capable of speeds up to 16 inches per second. It is also UHF/EPC-compliant, meaning that as RFID requirements throughout industry evolve, the system's labelling capabilities can be upgraded to keep pace.

In operation, the 64-05 RFID programs a label's RFID chip and employs direct thermal or thermal transfer technology to print variable data and symbology at 305 dpi.

SPESA Expo, Material World and Technology Solutions are now due to be held every three years in rotation with JIAM in Japan and IMB in Cologne, which will take place in 2005 and 2006 respectively. The next combined American event is scheduled for May 2007.

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.