Leading integrated computer hardware and software provider Gerber Technology announced last week the launch of a new e-business solution.

The company has invested $20m in WebPDM spec and WebPDM B2B, which are based on the existing WebPDM v3.8, and will continue to provide a further $5m a year, said Marc Jaspers, managing director Europe at Gerber Technology's Information System Division.

The new products have been designed to manage the time-consuming and costly product development process for the apparel industry.

Gerber said that 27 companies, which were based in Europe, the USA, and Asia, and were split equally between the manufacturing and retail sectors, were quizzed on their product development needs. The companies' responses dictated the development of the final versions of the WebPDM products.

Product development, a process that has been managed in the electronic, automotive, and pharmaceutical industries for some years, is still not managed by the apparel industry, Jaspers claimed. Speaking at a press conference held in Germany last week, he added that it was time the apparel sector caught up with other businesses: "Product development is still considered an art, but - although creativity is important - this is a business procedure like all the others in the company.

"At the moment, anywhere from four to eight departments get involved in product development: collection designers, marketing, the costing estimation department, quality, buyers, raw materials, sample makers, sales staff, the e-commerce division and all the offshore manufacturers that produce the garments. Although all those departments are necessary to develop the style, often nobody in the whole organisation is managing the process."

WebPDM spec
WebPDM spec is targeted at companies that are looking for an easy-to-use specification system that cuts costs. Jaspers said that adoption of the system would lead to a two per cent drop in costs per annum. The product also aims to cover the needs of companies that want added features such as: process control, collection status follow-up through exception reporting, Internet search capabilities, and 3D costing. Gerber customers, Célio and ITC, have achieved 40 per cent less 'redos' and have cut sampling costs by a third, Jaspers claimed.

The cut in time to market - up to 25 per cent - is the most significant feature of WebPDM spec, said Gerber. A collection can be ready for sale between one to three months earlier.

This new launch aims to integrate product development into a seamless process and is directed at companies that want to actively manage product development.

Offshore manufacturers producing a company's collection become part of the process, rather than being checked out by quality control staff only when the garments had been completed. A more inclusive relationship will not necessarily cut costs, Jaspers said, but customers who had used WebPDM B2B said that quality had improved and production development had become more integrated.

The integration of every link in the product development chain demanded something more than established logistics procedures. The new product allowed a more 'holistic' view of the supply chain to develop, the company claimed. It enabled suppliers to suggest new fabrics, styles and trends during the design process, to suggest costs during the draft stage, and to measure samples from the quality assurance team during production.

Gerber customers, which include Littlewoods and Fruit of the Loom, hope to cut buying costs, which account for 80 per cent of the cost of a garment, by up to 10 per cent and to slash time to market by 50 per cent through using WebPDM B2B.

Luc de Backer, general manager European operations for Gerber Technology, commented: "Time to market can make the difference between success and failure in the apparel industry. Product development usually takes between 40 to 60 per cent of the time from initial concept to delivery - Web PDM can make considerable improvements to a company's results."

Gerber will be entering a number of strategic partnerships with companies dealing with each step of the development process from market intelligence through to virtual merchandising. Although names such as Textile Source and Size8software.com were mentioned no specific details were forthcoming.

About Gerber Technology
Gerber Technology provides an extensive line of integrated computer hardware and software systems to the sewn goods and flexible goods industries. These systems include information management, product and pattern design packages. The company offers automation solutions to a variety of industries, including apparel and industrial fabrics. The company is based in the US with regional offices, agents and distributors in more than 110 countries.