While PLM is used to boost economies of scale to help fashion companies hasten speed to market and profitability, most vendors are struggling with one key differentiator: offering their services on a true real-time basis.

“For PLM to be agile enough, it must allow you to see what your design and sourcing divisions are doing on a real-time basis,” says Craig Crawford, founder of consultancy Crawford IT. “A lot of PLM is not in real-time because the system architecture has not been implemented to include all the product ecosystem. PLM is not the only system; there is also ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) etc that are not always well integrated.”

Crawford says 40% of global brands using PLM can’t extract its value on a real-time, end-to-end basis – adding that without this capability, PLM cannot truly create a smart factory or help fashion transition into Industry 4.0.

ERP delays are also problematic as such systems normally require 12-hour data updates before communicating with PLM or others on real-time – a feat that requires high IT expertise to fix.

To get around this, companies can use cloud and mobile devices that allow changes to be viewed in real-time. With mobile apps, “you can see different scenarios and how they will impact your bottom line or lead times. For example, if I change a button or fabric in this garment, how much will it cost to do so?” Crawford explains.

“Without a good PLM that tells you how your design decisions impact your bottom line and lead times in real-time,” firms are not getting the full benefit, he says.

Companies should assess whether their IT product architect has looked at the entire ecosystem of applications and software “to see how you develop product so that the process can be viewed real-time.”

He adds vendors’ “single version of the truth” marketing catchphrase falls short of reality without real-time visibility.

Grif Von Holst, head of product vision for DeSL, argues that companies do have the ability to embrace digitalisation and virtualisation throughout the entire supply chain, creating a collaborative eco-system that enables real-time strategic evaluation of the end-to-end flow of data throughout their business. This includes product design, colour, costs, specs and BOM, as well as management of that data through collaboration with the factory.

With additional cutting-edge technology such as 3D integration with PLM, users can drastically reduce product sample iterations, change the material and colour, apply prints and patterns, and make annotations.

The DeSL 3D tool is 3D agnostic, which means “you can work with any 3D objects while in the bill of materials, thereby updating the 3D model as the BOM is updating automatically.” This technology also enables the vendor to see the 3D model while viewing the tech pack, displaying exactly how the product should look when produced, from colour and fit all the way to placement of prints or graphics. “3D integration removes any room for error when a vendor interprets the designer’s intent.”