Efforts to take time out of the design and product development process were at the heart of software on display at last week's Texprocess trade fair in Frankfurt, Germany. And vendors such as Gerber Technology and Human Solutions are focusing on tools to meet these needs as seamlessly as possible.

"Today it's all about speed," explains Mike Elia, president and CEO at Gerber Technology. "The seasonal cycle is much shorter, so the value chain has to be seamless from end-to-end.

"And in order for speed to work, everything has to be interconnected. Data has to move seamlessly from one part to the next, from design to managing the whole retail chain."

Achieving an integrated process from development to production and retail, with up-to-date data supplied throughout, requires "a continuous chain of technology," according to Human Solutions' CEO Dr Andreas Seidl.

"Faster lead times and lower costs in the apparel industry are only possible if all the technologies mesh seamlessly with one another. Redundant entries, delayed transmission or lack of data quickly drive costs upwards."

Design and product development
When it comes to solutions to reduce time-to-market and improve agility, a lot of focus is being directed at the design and product development processes.

3D digital or virtual images can help eliminate delays and errors caused by different time zones and languages, as well as minimise the number of physical samples that need to be submitted - along with accompanying courier charges - and reduce product development time.

"Investments [in software] are being driven by cost and time pressures, so now is the right time to create new 3D trends," Human Solutions' Seidl says.

Estimating that many companies invest between 5-10% of their revenues in the sampling process, this is a key area in which to reduce costs and speed decision-making. "Product development can be reduced from three months to three hours," he believes.

"At the same time, the level of communication with manufacturers increases, which also helps speed up the process and save money."

The company's 3D Vidya virtual product development system enables brands and retailers to fit and adjust garments on true-to-life virtual models or avatars personalised using their own customer size and body shape data. The software takes original cut data from 2D CAD, and offers a preview of the unstitched 3D cut pieces on the model. 

"3D helps increase the quality of product development on one side, and has advantages in the full process chain on the other," Seidl explains, noting that the photo-realistic images can also be used in marketing, sales catalogues and advertising.

Currently, 3D technology is best for casual products, jeans and shorts, but is not yet ready for complex shapes and materials, Seidl concedes.

Steve Park, vice president and general manager for sewn goods at Gerber Technology, agrees that 3D technology is "still evolving and over the next five years will see broader adoption." Customers are "experimenting how to use it in their value chains," he explains.

That said, Gerber's new Yunique 360 Interactive Sample Capture unveiled for the first time at Texprocess shows how the technology is already helping to speed sampling time by reducing the need to send physical samples back and forth.

Brand owners and suppliers can capture a 360-degree view of a sample on a model or form and share these images, complete with annotation and mark-ups, via YuniquePLM.

Gerber's Vstitcher 3D pattern draping software also enables apparel companies to transform 2D patterns into 3D draped garments on virtual models. This again helps reduce time-to-market as well as the costs associated with sample making.

Park explains that other CAD developments are also focused on improving speed and efficiency, most notably integrating with the cutting room so that data from the CAD system can be used to more efficiently process material.

In the mid-term he expects this to extend to cutting sample cycles, getting to production-ready patterns, and ultimately achieve perfect cut and perfect sew first time.

Applications in the cloud
Human Solutions already has more than 350 users of its cloud-based applications - such as Automarker, Autocost and iSize - and the latest step has been to extend this to a complete Fashion Cloud platform where companies can share development and production data quickly, securely and in real-time.

There are new features for saving data and automatically synchronising files, so that everyone has the same information, for example when changes are made to pattern pieces and markers.

Advantages also include 24-hour access, secure file transfer, and reduced communication errors, the company says. The PLM GoLive product management system from its Assyst unit can also be integrated.

PLM links
The link from 2D and 3D CAD to delivering products across the supply chain comes via PLM or product lifecycle management, notes Bill Brewster, VP of global sales and marketing at Gerber Technology.

This "connects internal and external teams, enabling them to engage collaboratively and in real time, therefore pushing more work out into the supply chain."

He also notes that "people are looking for more and more from PLM," adding that the latest release of YuniquePLM not only expands sourcing and vendor management, but integrates with Adobe Illustrator so that "80% of what you can do in PLM starts with Adobe line planning."

There is also more visibility into the cost of production, with "what if" scenarios enabling teams to determine if a product will meet profitability expectations before designers begin a concept or generate a piece of artwork.

Preconfigured solutions
Driving investment at PTC is a focus on "preconfigured solutions that enable companies to realise value more efficiently and reduce implementation time," explains Reid Swanson, strategic accounts manager for retail and consumer goods, Central Europe.

For small and medium-sized organisations who are unlikely to have their own dedicated implementation teams, "there is a need to cut time and cost and speed the process." The company's latest Retail PLM tool captures best practices and industry-specific functionality.