With an increasing focus on quick response and short runs of multiple garment styles, more and more time in the production process is being given over to samples and pre-production work. Here Niki Tait looks at some of the tools behind bringing a good design to market.

In a typical apparel company around 52% of the total cycle time from design to the garment arriving in store is taken up by the development process.

Almost all computer aided design (CAD) companies now have well-developed product development management (PDM) systems that control and integrate all product development data to form a product information system.

But there are still many manufacturers and retailers who are not using them, or not using them to their full potential.

PDM data should include all style information, costing, fabrics, size specifications with their graded calculations, colour variations, labelling and packaging information, production specifications, make-up instructions, and all related trim accessories.

It should also include an audit trail that tracks who did what, and when, during the product development cycle.

The planning process for each line or collection, from concept to completed style, should be simple.

All the steps, including line grouping or programs, fabrics, models, size ranges and delivery dates, should be viewable quickly and simply during the development process and the need to input unnecessary or repetitive data when setting up new designs should be eliminated.

Bills of material, size charts and processing rules should be accessible directly from an existing archive.

All data relating to suppliers, quantities, sizes and colours should be integrated with the company’s ERP system and orders assigned according to the required mills, suppliers, or manufacturers. Changes should be re-calculated instantly, minimising potential mistakes.

It should also be easy to prepare designs, manage the manufacturing process, and optimise individual production steps in coordination with a predefined internal calendar.

Even production capacities can be taken into account and calculated from the beginning of the collection’s development.

‘To Do’ lists should be constantly updated and display the tasks delegated to various people or teams within the organisation and when they are due for completion.

When an assigned task is completed, the next task should automatically appear, and the completed tasks transferred automatically to the next in line.

Product Lifecycle Management
Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is the next depth of control. A better name for this would be collection, or range, lifecycle management as it starts even before the conception of a design.

It includes the planning of what the collection or range ought to contain in terms of product types, price levels, colours and sizes, when each product is due in store, and all stages in-between.

A successful PLM solution creates a value chain where information and transactions are exchanged seamlessly.

It should integrate design, planning, development, manufacturing, marketing and retail activities, and support parallel integration across product development and sourcing.

True-to-life visualisation
Virtualisation is also becoming a fact of life in the apparel industry, allowing multiple simulations of true-to-life fashion items and fashion line plans.

It reduces the need for physical samples while inspiring creativity, but also makes for quicker business decisions.

Brand and product managers, pattern designers, and suppliers can collaborate on product conception, selection, and validation with virtual fashion products and virtual fabrics shared throughout development.

Sketches, storyboards, 3D samples, collection catalogues, even store layouts can now be virtualised for easy global access and collaboration, before any physical sample is manufactured.

Using a central database, each participant works on the same current version of the product, adding individual pieces of information, such as textile and style designs, technical specifications, 2D patterns, or 3D virtual samples.

As lead times get shorter and more and more seasons get added to the retail cycle, the industry is adapt by adopting new ways of approving and quality-checking garments quickly.

The e-fit Simulator from Tukatech, for example, is a way of testing fit on the computer.

It takes digital patterns and turns the pattern pieces into “virtual cloth” that can be sewn by the computer and tested on a 3D virtual fit model, showing how the garment will look before a real sample is made.

3D prototyping
For virtual 3D prototyping, Lectra recently released a new version of its Modaris 3D Fit, which enables designs to be visualised in 3D on a virtual mannequin.

Again this enables the look and fit of a garment to be checked before a sample is made, and speeds up the time to develop a collection.

Two new plus size mannequins, new postures and a wider library of materials have been added.

OptiTex has also improved its 3D CAD technology by enhancing one of its core products, 3D Runway Designer 10.

New features include an open chat room that allows production and image files in 2D and 3D to be sent between partners participating in the design process.

Design and production staff can then modify these on-screen together, in real time from remote locations.

New customisable features and options allow designers the freedom to change textures, materials, colours and stitches or add logos on screen without creating a single piece of fabric.

The garment can then be seen on OptiTex's 3D models.

Marketing tools
NedGraphics specialises in helping companies integrate design, workflow, virtual sampling and marketing but is also strong in virtual knit and textile production.

Its new Vision Raschel, for example, manages all the technical aspects of designing raschel knits, so that the designer can focus on the artistic part of a project.

A handmade sketch can be scanned, reduced to the appropriate technical design according to the number of needles and rows, and edited.

When a project is ready, the technical information can be transferred to the machine for knitting to start.

Over the last seven years, CF Italia Srl, best known for its own brand and the Rimoldi range of sewing machines, has been developing a new marketing tool.

Ev@ merges production, interactive video and streaming technology into a virtual show room with a model and a selection of garments that can be combined in an on-screen fashion show.

It is aimed at apparel companies wanting to present their products on the internet as realistically as possible.

Koppermann’s Tex-Store is an integrated planning and communication tool to help with in-store presentation and merchandising.

It reduces the cost of sending visual merchandisers to the stores, and can be used to create mock-up stores with hard-to-obtain advanced seasonal samples.

The shop floor set, including fixtures, can also be communicated directly to the stores and compared against proposed inventory plans, highlighting problem areas before the merchandise is delivered to the store.

Niki Tait C. Text FCI FCFI heads Apparel Solutions which provides independent assistance and training to the apparel industry in the areas of manufacturing methods, industrial engineering, information technology and quick response.