Tech Conference Explores Diverse Solutions

— February 01, 2003

Tech Conference 2002, co-produced by Bobbin (now Apparel) and [TC]2, offered more than 125 apparel and retail attendees an overview of some of the latest technologies for product data management (PDM), fit conformance, radio-frequency (RF) product identification and CAD, among other solutions.

There were 15 educational sessions during the Dec. 10 event, which was held at [TC]2's Raleigh, NC, technology center. Tabletop technology displays from leading apparel industry vendors also were held throughout the day, as were demonstrations of [TC]2's current projects, including the Size USA study, a 12,000-person national sizing survey.

Offering the educational presentations were representatives of some of the companies sponsoring the conference as well as staff of [TC]2, which is a non-profit entity recognized worldwide for thought leadership in areas including 3-D body measurement, mass customization, supply chain strategy, sourcing analysis, training and value-added coaching. Gold sponsors of the event were Checkpoint Systems, EDS, eOne Group, Gerber Technology and Lectra. Silver sponsors included Alva Products, American & Efird, Cotton Incorporated, New Generation Computing, Methods Workshop and Walter Wilhelm Associates.

Several of the educational sessions zeroed in on the importance of reducing cycle time for apparel pre-production processes, especially prototype (sample) making processes. For instance, in a presentation about product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions, Jerome Johnson, director of business development for EDS, emphasized that companies that are able to get goods to market more quickly often can assume a "first provider advantage," charging a premium for their goods and responding in-stream to market trends. On the flip side, apparel firms unable to speed product development often risk being late to market with the season's merchandise, and consequently, "can hurt their ability to get the next line out."

Johnson said PLM solutions such as the one offered by EDS are designed to help companies manage their "intellectual products" in the same way ERP systems help them manage their physical products. "Satisfying demand for innovation is key," he said.

Also addressing the issue of speeding pre-production was Alva Products, which demonstrated how its new Garment Visualization System (GVS) uses a hybrid of photographic (2-D) and video (3-D) methods to manipulate body measurement and garment data for fit conformance purposes. Among other end uses, Alva's technology is designed to enable apparel companies to conduct fit sessions virtually during the sample making process. Dr. Kenneth Wang, the company's founder, explained how the fit solution can take into account the effects of age on posture, as well as action or movement of the body. A garment's pattern dimensions and fabric properties are just a few of the variables the system recognizes and enables users to manipulate. The solution supports 42 file formats, including body scan data. Wang, who is a medical doctor, conceptualized GVS based on his study of morphology and the human body.

Another hot topic at Tech Conference 2002 was the use of CAD in product development and data management, and its ability to speed product to market while eliminating redundant processes and capturing crucial data. Jill Simmons of Lectra, which offers CAD solutions, stressed that the continual shift of apparel manufacturing to offshore locations means that the "ownership of processes is changing," which is making it even more important for design and marketing departments to be able to clearly communicate product specifications to their manufacturing partners, wherever they are.

She emphasized the need for partners to communicate, define decision phases and manage development "in parallel," for processes from color management to fabric and trim development to visual merchandising, and noted that these processes can be handled digitally through PDM tools.

Likewise, Janell Copello and Anna Brindley of Gerber Technology noted that PDM tools are critical for communicating accurately and taking time out of development processes, while programs that are available for automating pattern making and marker making can drastically cut time out of the apparel production phase.

On another topic, Jim Lovejoy of [TC]2 shared information about [TC]2's National Sizing Survey, which it is currently conducting nationwide to establish accurate and statistically significant U.S. population size and shape data. The survey is being conducted in various locations throughout the United States through the use of white light 3-D body scanning technology, with a goal of scanning 12,000 people, ages 18 to 66, and including 48 different "cells" (comprised of data from subjects of a particular age, gender, ethnic group, income level, education level and so forth), with a minimum of 200 subjects per cell.

Such data will be invaluable to the apparel industry, which is often stymied when it comes to producing garments that fit well, said Lovejoy.

One reason for the fit problem is the change in the girth of the U.S. population, which has made sizing issues particularly troublesome of late, explained Lovejoy. He reported that in the past 20 years men and women have increased on average 11 percent in weight - a change that is considered "evolutionary" and that normally takes thousands of generations to achieve. This change has resulted from unprecedented access to high-energy food, combined with more sedentary lifestyles, said Lovejoy.

In another session, the issue of RF technology also pushed itself to the forefront when Checkpoint's Dave Shoemaker, group vice president of strategic marketing, challenged attendees to see that the future of RF technology is, in fact, upon us. He went on to state that RF identification (RFID) technology will replace electronic article surveillance (EAS) tagging systems. There will be a necessary merging of brand information and security onto one tag or label, he noted. Once fully utilized, this type of technology will enable apparel firms to detect theft without bulky security tags, drive inventory accuracy, obtain daily profitability reports and enable goods to pass swiftly through customs, said Shoemaker, adding that inventories can be waved through various checkpoints after being scanned with an RF reader, without the need to open boxes to determine contents.

eOne Group offered an overview of how three leading apparel industry companies are dealing with the opportunities of e-commerce. Tommy Hilfiger, George C. Moore and YKK all shared the same vision that utilizing the Internet is a business initiative, not a technological one, stressed eOne's chief architect Keith Winton. Tommy Hilfiger created a new B2B site, opened an employee store portal, a manufacturing specification portal and a sales representative portal in order to better serve its e-commerce needs. Along a similar vein, George C. Moore sought to present a proactive modern image via the Web to attract customers and to sell overstocks. With its implementation of eOne's solution, Moore reduced customer service order status calls by 15 percent and attracted a bevy of new customers, according to Winton. Likewise, YKK recognized its customers' need to have 24/7 access to order status and created a portal to do it. The firm also improved order search capabilities by leveraging existing IT personnel, procedures and equipment, explained Winton.


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