The ultimate goal is for Lectra to drive all of its cutters from single platform

The ultimate goal is for Lectra to drive all of its cutters from single platform

As part of its bid to help fashion and apparel companies succeed as they step into the 'Industry 4.0' era – or the fourth industrial revolution – technology specialist Lectra has offered a sneak preview of what it claims is the first cloud-connected digital cutting solution for the apparel sector.

"What we want to do is be a key player in Industry 4.0 and enable all of our customers to become key players in Industry 4.0 and leverage this to have a competitive advantage," Daniel Harari, Lectra CEO, told customers and journalists assembled at the company's International Advanced Technology Center (IATC) in Bordeaux-Cestas, France, last month. "Our goal is to help you and inspire you to be able to get to Industry 4.0."

The 'Fashion Goes Digital' event followed the launch of the company's new vision last year where Lectra identified megatrends such as the emergence of the millennial generation, the rise of China as a consumer-driven market, and digitalisation of corporate processes among its key drivers.

The fourth pillar of its strategy for the future is to help brands, retailers and manufacturers navigate the Industry 4.0 era, in which automation is combined with information so that real-time data can be used to improve the overall effectiveness, efficiency and responsiveness of an operation.

As the company explains, this means having tools that are smart and connected, from product development to the point of sale, with the capacity to connect everything together.

"Fashion is always a big market for innovation. It is one of the largest industries in the global economy today, [worth] about US$2.4 trillion dollars. [But] the role of fashion is changing; it is doing a complete digital transformation," says Jade Lafferrere, fashion and apparel industry manager at Lectra.

Allied to this is the need for greater agility, throughput and cost efficiency to help manufacturers cope with increasing demands for customisation, shorter lead times, high quality, efficiency and low-costs.

"The world is changing, deployments are changing. It is [no longer] one single production model that is about mass production, more and more it is [being] replaced by a larger number of small series; mass customisation orders and even made to measure," adds Frederic Gaillard, product marketing cutting room director.

"Moving forward, we believe the future will be a mix of everything so you need to be able to [do both] at the same time or you need to be able to switch from one production model to another quickly."

Cutting Room 4.0

This is where Cutting Room 4.0, Lectra's new fully-automated cutting room concept for fashion and apparel, comes in.

Combining a digital cutting platform – a cloud-based data hub that connects design and product development offices, the cutting room and beyond – with a brand new state-of-the-art single-ply cutting machine, its initial aim is to provide firms with new abilities in made-to-order and on-demand manufacturing. Mass customisation and made-to-measure capabilities are due to be added later.

Already available commercially for the furniture market, it will be launched for the clothing sector in late 2018.

Its key characteristic is a complete workflow for cutting operations that offers a 360-degree view of the whole process with systems able to exchange information or effectively "talk" to each other. In other words, "it's not just a cutter, it's a full cutting line."

It addresses key processes from getting an order, through planning to optimising the markers, and moving forward the goal is for the system to "to give you alerts, give you suggestions on how you can improve the plan, the scheduling of the cutting" and even adapt to peak seasons.

But it also offers what Gaillard describes as "a completely new structure: this cutting line is smart and connected to a digital fitting platform, and 80% of the job is done by the platform. The cutter, the cutting line, only has to execute, but has been smartly prepared and automatically processed by the digital network."

Seamlessly connected to ERP, manufacturing execution system (MES) and CRM systems, a smart, connected Industry 4.0 compliant cutter is "the parachute of the platform," with different packages depending on needs and markets. This may be the level of automation required, or the volume being produced. It will also provide data to all involved, from the cutting room operator to the plant manager.

"You cannot really be in the Industry 4.0 spirit if you're not able to exchange information with all the systems which can encounter customers," Gaillard says. "Data is everywhere, especially if you are discussing Industry 4.0. You cannot talk about [it] without considering data".

According to Lectra, the data flow between people, processes and technologies provides insights and information that enable quick decision-making and real-time optimisation.

And the end result is about providing greater agility, throughput, cost efficiency and in particular scalability in order to respond seamlessly to small batch orders and shorter lead times.

Smart manufacturing technology

The first area of focus is a brand new Virga single-ply cutting machine for applications such as customisation and also made to order, where there are challenges in managing a diverse range of styles, small volumes and the need to switch rapidly from one product to the next.

It optimises cycle times by catering for both plain and patterned fabrics, allowing simultaneous loading, scanning, cutting and offloading. To keep cost per cut piece low – a challenge in single-ply cutting – Virga's cutting technology eliminates the need for paper or plastic when cutting, allows agile management of scraps and uses long lifespan consumables, Lectra says.

"Every time I am [in discussions] with cutting room managers, they are talking about cutting speed, cutting quality, but they are forgetting the daily job of the operators [who are] managing all the details you need to prepare to cut," says product marketing manager Charlotte Lageyre.

"What we have in mind with this offer is "to introduce a computer inside the cutting room, to give you more agility and allow for last minute changes or modifications which can be made on screen and will automatically update the pattern for cutting."

In essence, the platform uses data to assess which parts need to be cut and the most efficient way to do so before sending it to the cutting room.

Material management is a key point here, and once the system is set up with information on the different fabrics being used and any constraints, "we will have the full automation of the process."

And maximum automation means operators can focus on supervising the process, free to carry out added value tasks or manage any incident or issue that arises. "The operator still has the control of the process, but he is focused on the key aspects and not the details."

Further development

Lectra has also outlined a series of goals it aims to reach as it further develops the solution, including plans to provide automatic alerts when production is interrupted and suggestions on how to improve cutting schedules.

In addition, Gaillard says Lectra will leverage data from all of its cutters to help develop new tools for customers, improve processes, and boost production.

To meet these goals, the company is continuing to increase its R&D budget, investing 10% of revenues from 2017 to 2019 – a rise of about 50% between 2016 and 2019.

"This is just the beginning....we have a huge list of things we want to address moving forward," says Gaillard.

But the long-term ambition is to have a single platform that drives all three of Lectra's cutters – Virga, Vector and Versalis. "This really is our aim," he explains.

And Lectra is keen to ensure the add-ons will not come at an additional cost once fully developed.

The firm plans to offer the Cutting Room 4.0 on a 'package' basis, with different packages offered depending on a customer's needs and markets. Gaillard adds once the MTM add-on has been developed, that too will be offered to customers as a separate package, which can be added to the existing solution.

Meanwhile, Harari says Lectra is ready to help customers navigate Industry 4.0 but says it will take some time for the industry as a whole, to adapt fully.

"My feeling is that it will take ten to 20 years to be in place. It's a journey, and it has to be integrated step by step. It will take [a long time] but the first move we certainly have and that is digital."