Broadly speaking, companies use PLM to increase productivity and collaboration, improve quality, bolster creativity, and shorten time to market for a product. It is used across various industries, helping integrate data and documents, business systems, and people involved in the product creation process. At the same time, it allows those involved to systematically track all the changes a product goes through during its development.

In the fashion industry, PLM enables an apparel company to more quickly and efficiently develop a fashion collection, mainly through enhanced supply chain visibility, experts say, adding that key processes such as pattern making or styling are sharply improved, helping boost speed to market and cutting inventory losses.

For the past decade, most PLM systems have been able to do this, some more efficiently than others depending on the vendor’s industry expertise and implementation know-how.

New generation systems are upping the ante on their predecessors, however, offering PLM in the cloud and mobile devices.

And because they run on multiple server back-ups, they avoid the frequent interruptions stemming from unreliable internet connections across a global supply chain. Which means PLM could even enable garment makers to fully visualise the supply chain on a real-time basis.

In turn, mobile PLM, which many vendors are leaping into, is pushing the envelope on product design and testing by allowing fashion buyers to immediately upload runway or on-field trends into PLM, improving collections and hastening their delivery.

Gerber sales manager Violeta Lopez says the company’s YuniquePLM Cloud is cutting companies’ storage costs because their data is now hosted in the cloud, eliminating the need for a large server to hold it.

“PLM systems can be expensive so we offer unlimited data,” Lopez says, adding that cloud computing is the future. “The cloud is changing PLM. It is making it more user friendly because the reality is PLM was never that easy to implement.”

While agreeing mobile apps are streamlining product scouting and design, they remain limited to top management and will take time to permeate all of an organisation’s users, Lopez notes.

In other innovations, Gerber is working on new 3D patterning technologies to allow PLM customers to hedge garment fittings based on their fabric composition.

“Right now you can see how a garment fits in a JPEG format but it’s not real because the fit changes depending on fabric composition, whether it’s cotton, Lycra or polyester,” Lopez explains. “The idea is to be able to look at how different fabrics fit into a system’s virtual model.”

Another benefit of PLM is that it provides a flexible critical path to orchestrate key business processes. “When we hear a client say they want ‘one source of truth,’ they also desperately need to know where the truth is,” explains DeSL North American sales director, Pam Peale.

With DeSL Critical Path, our clients benefit from knowing their processes are managed but not rigid within our solution. Rather than being “bolted” on top, “the fully configured Critical Path is central in how our PLM works. It is this flexibility that enables them to meet the ever-evolving changes specific to their business.”