Little did management guru Tom Peters realise how much depth there would be in every word of his epigram quoted infra, just a few years thence. Barrage, customised solutions, customer problems, quick change, artistry, product, service, manufacturing, dominate…each term has its own specific connotation today, this transformation coming in the past few years. The sole factor that has revolutionised the world’s thinking has been the advent of Information Technology (IT) and as a neo-natural extension, the Internet. Together, they have inexorably dominated every aspect of every business. In the apparel industry of today, IT is taken for granted.
To offer a barrage of customised solutions to fleeting customer problems requires quick-change artistry within our product lines … as the service component of manufacturing comes to dominate”. -Tom Peters, 1992
Software solutions may be defined as software programmes used as a tool to rationalise any physical function leading to a defined aim by optimising time, efficiency and product value versus input cost. If still abstract in the apparel industry, a mental image can be conjured up by thinking of any garment worn as to its embryonic or conceptual stage, the processes undergone as it was first formed into a fabric, delivered to an assembly line as part of an order, finished, packed, dispatched, tracked till delivery and final display on the shelves of sellers. Last in the line would be the feedback, in terms of customer appreciation manifested as volume of sale and its subsequent re-order.
India manufactures apparel worth over Rs 75,000 crore. This is expected to touch Rs 2,50,000 crore by 2010. IT investment in the industry – traditionally low tech and labour intensive – has taken off exponentially in the last couple of years. Analysts estimate the potential IT spent by the apparel sector to be in the range 0.75 to 1 % of the total industry size of Rs 75,000 crore, i.e., an IT spend of Rs 530 to Rs 700 crore.
Clothing Industry Software
There are a number of opinions on the nomenclature of apparel industry software, but it is generally agreed that the list below partly sums up the various families of software that have either been used in the past or are in use today:
- Material development
- Fashion design & forecasting
- Digital Printing
- Colour management solutions
- Computer aided design (CAD) / Computer aided manufacture(CAM)
- Fabric costing
- Thread costing
- Labour costing
- Cut planning software
- Production control and control
- Unit Production System (UPS)
- Real Time Shopfloor Data Collection
- Product data management (PDM)/Product lifecycle management (PLM) and the natural extension of the latter to cover Fashion lifecycle management (FLM)
- Enterprise resource planning (ERP) and Supply chain management (SCM)
It is simply not possible to list every known software package related to apparel, whether manufacturing, distribution or sale related, or even begin to compare them in this article. Instead, the focus will be on the more pertinent sections of apparel manufacturing only, giving as examples some well-known or prominently used packages of the supporting software. Even so, the topic in itself is prone to multiple overlaps, as certain functions are common to a number of disparate modules, as is the software involved.
PRIMACY OF IT FOR SUCCESS IN THE APPAREL MARKET
In any prologue to a discussion in an industry forum, the primary points on the agenda for success have to be Speed to Market, Product Development, Tight Pricing and Productivity. Which of the four is the top priority for a company will depend on its strengths and the capability of its human resources to correlate with its mission and vision statements.
There is no gainsaying the fact that it is these four parameters that are the keys to success. To implement any of these as growth measures ……. we have ready-built IT solutions available and we only need to take some hard decisions to implement any of them.
In the multiplicity of the solutions that will emanate from the factors listed above, it is inevitable that there will be overlaps in the utilisation of the limitless capabilities of IT.
Material Development Designing solutions allow the design staff to create their own fabric (woven and knits) designs and prints
In recent times, the manufacture and export of textile and apparel products has become extremely competitive. With the speed that fashion moves today, it is essential for apparel manufacturers to optimise their design and development processes for the fastest time to market. Now a designer can get down to work and introduce virtual colours, patterns and silhouettes to create samples on screen.
The state-of-the-art designing solutions allow the design staff to create their own fabric (woven and knits) designs and prints; they can even choose from thousands of templates for prints, plaids and weaves or easily create their own from scratch. Particularly in knit designing, the designer can create a 3D stitch effect (screen and printout) and use own 3D Knit stitches. Input of existing designs can be done, using a scanner or digital camera and making appropriate changes. Choosing or changing colours is as easy as point and click. Fabric designs can then be printed to hard copy or e-mailed to clients for signoff or manufacturing facilities for production. Fabric design just doesn’t get easier or faster than this. A drape module allows designers or product developers to easily drape any fabric design or colour over any part of a garment for onscreen display in seconds. Buyers particularly like this time saving feature as they can immediately see what the garment will look like while the companies save on the costly and time-consuming process of creating a new sample garment to choose the correct fabric for specific applications. Some available IT solutions in the field are:
* Fashion Studio by Blue Fox Nedgraphics;
* Vision Fashion Studio by Gerber
* Tex-Design by KOPPERMANN
* PrimaVision by Lectra
* Colour Matters
* Design Studio by Textronics
* Geac StyleTime
Fashion Design and Forecasting: Trends in colour, silhouette, textures and make up compositions, layout, storyboard, colourways, sketches, creation of colour marks
Thousands of digital snaps, capturing the essence of runway and street fashion in Paris, Milan or US for inspiration…… modified to get the right colour and silhouette instantaneously….. forecast and reporting on colours, fabric and silhouette trends …. interfaced with design development software for appropriate texture of fabric… is de rigueur.
It is possible to even visualise (virtualise) how the merchandise will look at the retail store or when the consumer wears it, by photo rendering. These design illustration software packages enable one to see, select and download necessary information and trends in colour, silhouette and textures and make up compositions, layout, storyboard, colourways, sketches, creation of colour marks, rotate and re-size pictures, separate colours, creation of colour palettes, etc. Fashion design solutions allow for quick and easy manipulation, alteration, and the interchanging of components for accurate design generation.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of solutions to overcome this problem. Specialised design forecasting services are available, like
* Worth Global Style Network (WGSN)
* Graphic Exchange
* Style Sight
* Carlin Groupe
* Fashion Snoops
SPEED TO MARKET
In an industry in which fashion and trends change faster than ever, and where globalisation and outsourcing are key factors for success and survival, the need for shortening the time to market from design to production and for systems that support and facilitate collaboration is crucial.
Brands and retailers need their manufacturers and prospective suppliers to turn samples and cost estimates within one week, assuming the fabric is available. They must figure out ways to get their product to the market while it is still a hot trend and not yesterday’s news. Taking it one step further, all this needs to be accomplished by spending less time and money on a collection, bringing to light why streamlined exploitation of IT tools are a necessity to being successful in today’s ever-changing industry. It is most desirable that brands and retailers partner their manufacturers and prospective suppliers to turn samples and cost estimates within one week, using tools such as digital colour management, digital print, virtual pattern fitting technology and PLM to cross-communicate and get approvals faster.
* Pecler Paris with its web publication
* Next Trim
* Doneger Creative Services
* Trendzine / FashionInformation,
Digital Printing Sampling a way to Product Development; a solution towards shorter production cycle and greater design variety
The next logical step would be product development (PD). Once the fabric textures, weaves and print design have been finalised, the buyer is only waiting to see the end product. The prototype garment needs the correct sample meterage, duly printed. Once a time-consuming procedure, advances in digital printing have revolutionised the process and speeded it up dramatically. Any conceivable shade can be digitally printed! Digital textile print enables direct file input from textile CAD systems, hi resolution multicolour prints on virtually all fibre types possible with 4-5 fastness rating! All within hours!
The trend is towards decreasing production run lengths, shorter production cycles, greater design variety, reduced inventory risk, all provided by digital printers. There are any number of digital printers in the market, prominent ones being:
* Reggiani Dream
* Dupont Artistri
* Mimaki TexJet TX2 & TX3
* Encad from Kodak
* Blue Fox Nedgraphics
* Colourspan Displaymaker XII
* Leggett & Platt
* Zazzle, USA and the Israeli Körnit are
specially built to handle black cloth.
* The new Isis printer from Osiris of the Netherlands, which delivers up to 3,840 square metres/hour.
Colour Management Solutions Reduce times of colour approval and work towards quicker deliveries
The inordinate delays of the past (due to physical conversion, transportation of fabric swatches and colour matching approvals) were dealt with by advancements in communication, more specifically the web. Today, online colour matching and pick-up is the norm, with solutions available from a host of colourists. Colour samples can be sent digitally through the net (scanned in the photo spectrograph under specified light), colour recipe generated for dyeing/printing, developed sample compared digitally by delta value against the original sample and appropriate action taken.
Most of these solutions are nowadays are also embedded in product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions.
* The ‘Colorite Imagemaster’ from Datacolour
* Masterbatches segment from Clariant
OCX from eWarna
* Multiple applications like Profilemaker and EyeOne from GretagMacbeth
* ColourTalk from Coats (in collaboration with Fuji and Gretag-MacBeth)
* Colour Matters
* Geac ColorTime
Retailers do not have extensive design teams; instead, fabric development, design and styling, is out-sourced to product developers, who have an eye for making the right concepts or leave the task to their vendors and agents to select, modify, create and combine the looks that will define each season’s lines. To remain fashion current the vendor has to remain updated on the consumer preferences, consumer behavior, big influences and bigger events, changing market trends besides having information on the latest offerings by the retailers and designers.
Online forecasting and fashion trend analysis services covering the young men’s, denim, junior ladies’, children’s and infant & toddler markets are one stop guidance shops in all facets of fashion design and merchandising. Using 3-D software, designers can simulate the fit and drape of apparel on various body types without ever creating a garment; sitting thousands of miles away from the scene of action, they can get the better of their competition and demand better prices.
Computer Aided Design (CAD) / Computer Aided Manufacture (CAM) Solutions primarily to handle pattern making, marking and grading but also help in calculating accurate fabric consumption and tight control on pricing
This feature, once reserved for far more expensive applications like the aviation and automotive industries is today the most widely used term in the industry, with solutions for every phase of fabric transit from the unrolling and laying to marking, grading and cutting. Traditional pattern design system (PDS) is the key function here, either basic block generated from measurements made directly in a computer or through digitisation of paper patterns, style development and pattern manipulation using construction parameters and taking out interdependency of pattern pieces. Now, CAD packages offer advanced features like 3D draping of patterns, electronic sewing of all patterns to make complete garment and check garment fit in static and dynamic conditions (simulation of garment fall using fabric objective measurement). This is followed by grading and marker planning in solid, plaids & engineered stripes fulfilling all matching requirement. The marker is finally output to a plotter or CNC cutter.
The popular systems are:
* Assyst Bullmer
* Tanya Geometric
* Audaces from Brazil
Real Time Shopfloor Data Collection: A solution to give 7 to 11% cost saving by way of gain in productivity time reduction bundle handling time, reduction of the excess cost and reduction of repairs
The crucial sewing production data is the backbone of line balancing, but calculating data on a sewing floor is an arduous task. Traditional manual job ticket or recording systems cannot produce critical production related data on time. Manual data collection is also laborious and error prone. A Real Time Data Collection System is a mechanism for complete control of the apparel manufacturing unit. It operates on the basis of putting the emphasis of all information collection systems where it matters, i.e., at the needlepoint. Real time data collection is an integrated part of all mechanised UPS systems.
It enables single entry point for WIP and piecework payroll through shop floor data capture, enables onscreen enquiries, i.e. WIP summary, lagging bundles, etc. It generates management reports, on cut exceptions, attended minutes, down time, SMS, on & off standard, earned pay, off standard pay, overtime premium WIP in/through operation, WIP in/through dept, on-screen graphs of work in progress, i.e., virtually a complete transaction audit trail.
Popular systems are:
* G-Pro from Malaysia
* SabreRTS from Sri Lanka
* XeBusiness XeRTS
* Vertex Plus
* Eildon’s Checkmate
* MAGNAL FA.CT.S
* Firefox Shop Floor Control System
The buyer is now demanding such low prices that the vendor has to strengthen or tighten his complete supply chain. With so many choices available, the buyer is exercising his option to source from anywhere and anyplace. All partners in the chain have to work diligently and efficiently to meet the buyers’ demands.
Today, appropriate software tools are available to gainfully exploit men, machine and material. Solutions calculate the actual use of man-hours, fabric, thread and trims consumption accurately, leaving no room for error or ambiguity insofar as what level of productivity is to be attained and the cost per piece of output. This would require product specific factories working at the optimal rate, with the correct estimate of capacity available and utilised; efficient sourcing of raw material at best cost and integration & modern managerial techniques so as to achieve the highest productivity. The fact that India is a low cost of labour country is a huge advantage which must be capitalised.
Fabric Costing Offers result within minutes to and accuracy of 1% of the actual final production Consumption
Fabric accounts for over 50% of the cost of making a garment, so controlling or negotiating fabric consumption has a significant impact on the bottom line. Fabric consumption at the end of production is dependent on components like the final fit pattern, pattern grade, fabric cuttable width, distribution of units in the size range, marker section overlaps, damages cut in spreading and where applicable, fabric quality testing, bias, and re-cuts.
Software currently available for the apparel industry accurately estimates fabric yield by itemising all the components of production into its calculation. If the components of final production consumption listed above are used with a sample size estimate marker, the results are accurate to within 1% of the actual final production consumption. If a ‘block’ or non-final-fit pattern is used and averages are itemised for each of the other components the error could be held to under 5%, on the average. The fabric purchase estimate for local/CMT/ package programs will fall within a 1-5 % error, depending on the accuracy of the data input. The software also calculates the damage cut out percentage by inputting a fabric inspection report; a useful tool since inspection reports are readily available from fabric mills and damage cut out percentages vary widely.
The fabric costing solutions that are in vogue include:
* US-Guatemalan Estmark
* South African Methods Workshop’s Quick TruCost
* Wide-ranging Seradex Costing Software
Thread Costing Saves on unnecessary wastages and calculates accurate thread requirement
Incorrect evaluation of the meterage of the basic element of sewing, the thread, results in an avoidable increase in the final cost of the garment. Precise assessment has shown an average of 40% excess demand and consequent wastage. Thread costing software is a benchmarking tool that keeps unnecessary losses under control by looking at needle, looper, bobbin and spreader thread as affected by thread thickness and tenacity, stitch type and density, seam type and width and fabric ply thickness. The software can calculate and consolidate the thread requirement, article wise and production system wise.
Commonly used software packages are
* Seamworks from Coats
* NOP 2000 from Gutermann
* NBE from Amann
Labour Costing Software Allows manufacturers to quickly find out the work content of any sewing operation and determine labour cost
Predetermined Motion Time Study [PMTS] is the accepted method for determining the work content and labour cost. PMTS allows manufacturers to quickly find out the work content of any sewing operation in fractions of a second (in TMU, time measurement unit) for a given method and defined workplace. The basis of calculation is industrial engineering MTM database. The rest of the planning process is basic maths. The macros make storage and retrieval of operation time easier for repeat styles.
The common packages in use are:
* XeBusiness XeRTS and XeTAS
The preset notions about a productivity paradigm of ten shirts per machine per operator per shift need to be dispelled. Apparel manufacturers should look to implement a productivity improvement strategy to achieve at least 28 per hour, though there are countries touching 40.
It is not only the case with shirts; every product has to reach a certain productivity level to be price competitive. If productivity is to be at its highest, the Industrial Engineers must know how to balance a product line to optimise workflow by implementing IT perfectly. Looking ahead, design illustration software improves the designer’s productivity; Fabric CAD improves productivity in fabric design; Apparel CAD improves pattern making, grading and marker making productivity; CAM improves spreading and cutting productivity; PDM/PLM and critical path software improves merchandisers productivity; production scheduling software improves planner’s productivity; PMTS improves operator productivity and UPS automated material handling system improves material handling productivity.
Cut Planning Software
Scientific and multiple priority-driven evaluation of millions of permutations and combinations to decide on the most cost-effective solution
As already stated, any saving made in fabric impacts directly on product line and overall organisational profitability. What is often overlooked is the fact that substantial fabric savings can be made ‘outside the marker’ as well by optimal cut planning, roll management, etc. The ultimate goal for a business enterprise is to cut the order most economically, which is combination of material cost (fabric) and process cost, i.e., marker making, spreading, cutting, bundling, etc. It is not easy to decide optimum number of garments in a marker, the optimal allocation of markers, number of plies in a lay, minimum number of lays for a given order, scientific allocation of rolls for a lay length for optimising fabric utilisation. On top of this, there are constraints like shade variation within the same fabric lot, part shipment requirement, master packing without any shade variation, etc. For certain orders, minimum fabric utilization is top priority, whereas, for other orders, the faster cutting time comes first. All these have to be, perforce, taken care of in an intensively scientific and multiple priority-driven evaluation of millions of possible permutations and combinations, before deciding on the most cost-effective solution.
* Reach Technologies
* AMS Cutplan
Production Planning and Control Understanding finite capacity scheduling for the apparel industry
Under this head, possibly the most important, there is a requirement to understand finite capacity scheduling software for the apparel industry. This implies that production schedulers can identify and act on late orders; manage capacities and constraints, including labour and material and identify the consequences of making changes. Such packages allow total resource management and crucially, provide time to react to changes that might delay a job or work order for customers. Features like multiple calendars, multistyle loading in a line, scheduling, cascading effect of one department loading to another, effect of learning curve on production output, what if calculation on department overload and profitability, advanced planning and scheduling and visual alarms are sought.
* Fast React
* Optiflow DSS
Unit Production System (UPS)- Automated conveyors for production system output on the sewing floor
IT is omnipresent. Overhead automated conveyors for unit production system (UPS) on the sewing floor are being controlled through a computer at the beginning of the line. Cut component loading, real time operation completion records, WIP balancing and material routing are achieved by simple computer clicks. A clean and ergonomic shopfloor are concomitant benefits.
* Smart MRT
Product Data Management (PDM) / Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) – Automation and improvement in the efficiency of information management, pre-production and production processes
To stay ahead, the apparel distributor and manufacturer must respond with technology, innovative systems and effective overall management of a very large number of processes and subprocesses that often run concurrently. Maintaining a style file manually and sorting and querying data orderwise, datewise or eventwise is an ardous task in itself; since continuous changes in product specifications have become the norm during order lifecycle, accurate maintenance of history log and event tracking have become an imperative. The amount of data involved defies imagination, calling for a tool to help sustain competition and growth. This focussed tool is the PDM module, giving the design and development team the ability to capture pictures/ sketches through scanning, data input through typing or even importing from another software package.
The text or visual information is then processed and/or integrated (size specification comparison during sample approval, raw material requirement calculation based on consumption and order quantity, etc.). Literally all information related to the merchandise is stored in an orderly fashion and chronologically, for easy retrieval, distribution (print, display, send etc.) and administrative purposes (store, delete, duplicate, save, etc.). Any change in specifications and/or any other details of an order trigger necessary updating (for example, increase in length measurement in specification sheet will result in increase in fabric consumption, sewing thread consumption, etc.) and flashed/made accessible to all users (across the globe through the web) in real time to enable quick decision making. This helps schedule, track and control the progress of new styles and prototypes. These systems automate and significantly improve the efficiency of information management, preproduction and production processes.
The commonly used systems are
* Blue Fox Porini
* Assyst PDM
* Matrix One Accelerator
* Parametric Technology Corp (PTC)
* Yunique Solutions
* Gerber’s Web-PDM and Lectra’s Gallery.
Product Lifecycle management (PLM) is an extension of data management through the product’s life span. PLM is a strategic approach towards a set of solutions for a collaborative product data definition and management across the extended enterprise, from concept to end of life. PLM enables customers to optimise their product design cycles and processes, digitise their New Product Introduction processes and manage product data, configurations and product changes and enables seamless integration of product data with other enterprise applications. This results in still shortened design cycle time and reduced cost.
Some of the solutions that the product engineering practice offers in the area of PLM are new product introduction, part management, BOM and configuration management, engineering change management, supplier sourcing collaboration, catalogue and classification management and design collaboration
To give a few examples:
* Liz Claiborne uses software from Parametric Technology Corp.
* Jones uses UGS Corp.
* Tahari uses Business Management Systems’ VerTex
* Spyder Active Sports has installed Lectra Gallery PLM
* Zweave and Yunique leverage Optitex’s anthropometric models and pattern design systems, as well as its runway 3D™
* J Jill has installed the Freeborders PLM
* Parametric Technology Corp. supplies the Aptavis PLM
* WFX from World Fashion Exchange is also popular
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) / Supply Chain Management (SCM) Seamless integration all of facets of the business, including planning, manufacturing, sales, marketing and delivery to customers in the shortest possible time
ERP, or enterprise resource planning, is a business management system that seamlessly integrates all facets of the business, including planning, manufacturing, sales, and marketing. The ERP methodology has emerged to help business managers implement ERP in business activities such as inventory control, order tracking, customer service, finance and human resources.
When a customer service representative enters a customer order into an ERP system, he has all the information necessary to complete the order (the customer’s credit rating and order history from the finance module, the company’s inventory levels from the warehouse module and the shipping dock’s trucking schedule from the logistics module, for example).
People in these different departments all see the same information and can update it. When one department finishes with the order, it is automatically routed via the ERP system to the next department. Also, different departments can act simultaneously on the same order, in areas such as production planning, manpower allocation, sourcing, replenishing etc. to achieve Just in Time (JIT) manufacturing and reduce time to market.
* SAP, the German giant, with its SAPAFS (apparel and footwear solutions) in partnership with Rapier Consulting (MAS Holdings) and Austweb leads the way, with Indian apparel companies like Amit Spinning, GTN Textile, Network Clothing Company, Abhishek Industries as clients
* Oracle E-Business Suite (Release 12.0), to be customised for Indian market
* APPS (from Royal Datamatics)
* Atlantic Software Business Services (ASBS)
* Visual Gems
are examples of smaller indigenous systems that are in use.
* 7th Online
is a successful ERP integrator cum solution provider with Liz Claiborne, Jones Apparel, Kellwood, Dillard’s, Federated, Saks and Kohl’s as clients.
Other names are
* Vision Suite from Jesta I.S.
Supply chain management is certainly a “hot topic” in the fashion industry today. It is the combination of art and science that goes into improving the way a company finds the raw components it needs to make a product or service, manufactures that product and delivers in the shortest possible time to the customers. When most people talk about speed-to-market they focus on production. Production, however, represents less than 40% of the total product life cycle so to truly address the supply chain it is necessary to look at other elements that influence the cycle from concept to retail delivery. It is known that there are five elements to SCM, viz, Plan, Source, Make, Deliver and Defect Return. SCM has two types of software, supply chain planning (SCP) and supply chain execution (SCE), both of which are complex and best used when integrated with ERP, which allow managers to make informed decisions.
The increasingly encompassing applications of IT are very difficult to capture in a static article in any magazine. It is quite possible that, even as we write this article, many new IT solutions have emerged and some may have ceased to exist. The IT industry, in terms of technology and applications is so dynamic that it is not possible to stay updated with the frequency of release of new chips, even those related to the apparel industry. And with internet, the expectation of users has also grown multifold. Even the most unthinkable area of sewing machines can be networked now! As we have just seen, apart from branded off-the-shelf software, there are plenty of customized and applied uses of IT in the field of apparel manufacturing.