IBM has signed a multi-million dollar agreement with the Fashion Research Institute (FRI) in New York to implement a new virtual world enterprise solution that could help designers cut sample creation costs and time to market.

Users of the Virtual World Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Enterprise System will be able to enter a virtual world, receive training on the systems, and take a design from concept to prototype – with every step short of actual manufacturing being done virtually.

It is hoped this will offer a new work flow addressing critical issues such as ensuring the manufacturability of designs and decreasing sample costs by two-thirds.  

The 3-D tools are accessed and used  with the Second Life client interface and will also connect to the OpenSim virtual world platform to create fashion products, provide efficient workflow queues, and allow groups with an interest to collaborate and modify designs. 

The program will also generate virtual product samples and accurate factory specifications that enable high quality product mass-manufacturing in the real world.

The IBM-backed and co-developed solution offered by FRI is said to be both simple and intuitive to use.

The initial solution is expected to go live in the second half of 2009 will be piloted with up to 20 international design houses. 

It will then be offered as a design service or enterprise installation to creative industry design houses of all sizes globally.

“A design house implementing this solution could reduce dozens of weeks of design time, minimise the number of physical samples manufactured, and increase product manufacturing quality enough to put into development and production many additional collections,” explained Jeffrey Russell of IBM Global Business Services.

The Fashion Research Institute conducts research into technologies to overhaul traditional fashion practices and methodologies and aims to reduce the carbon footprint and environmental impact of the industry.