PLM Pushes Further into the Enterprise

By Jordan K. Speer — October 01, 2012

Apparel’s 6th Annual PLM Report, “Investing for Sustained Success,” published in the June issue, revealed a steady increase over the past six years toward greater degrees of integration of PLM to other systems and a great opportunity for benefits to accrue as this connectivity takes place. The report revealed that the highest level of integration to date is taking place between PLM and ERP systems (33 percent of respondents), followed by sourcing (31 percent), and that the most desired integration for the future is with calendaring and event management (53 percent), followed by business intelligence/analytics (43 percent) and merchandise planning/management (43 percent).  

PLM’s footprint is clearly growing larger as its tentacles reach well beyond design and product development to touch nearly all areas of the design-to-delivery process.

Apparel recently checked in with some apparel brands and retailers to learn about the progress they’ve made since first implementing PLM, and how their companies have expanded the solution’s footprint deeper into the supply chain.
Here’s what they had to say.

Alex Perez
PLM Project Manager, Topson Downs

Based in West Los Angeles, Topson Downs is a high-volume, quick-response apparel manufacturing company, covering all aspects of apparel production, from mass-market private label to high-end contemporary fashion. With customers such as Walmart, Target, Urban Outfitters and Macy's, our design and product development teams are constantly up to date on the latest market trends, and we pride ourselves on using the latest technology for product development.

Topson Downs' global operations span three continents and nearly a dozen countries. The scale of our operations, combined with the company's rapid growth, makes it essential for Topson Downs to be highly efficient and responsive throughout the design and production processes — which is why we selected NGC Software's Extended PLM system, an integrated solution for PLM and supply chain management.

Prior to implementing the PLM system, we saw an acute need to get organized, both with data as well as processes. We had data all over the place, and we were looking for a way to make our samples overseas. We really had no system to manage sampling; instead, we had cut sheets where the designers would attach pictures, fabric and trims for cutting and sewing. We used a homegrown, green-screen application for production and had very poor visibility into the actual status of production.

Topson Downs chose NGC's software to help us streamline our design and production processes, as well as improve supply chain collaboration and visibility; we've seen major gains in productivity by extending PLM all the way from design through manufacturing. All of our data now resides in the PLM system and can be accessed via a web browser, allowing all of our users and trading partners to go to one place for the real-time information they need, when they need it. As a result, Topson Downs has reduced our product lifecycle and can respond quickly to customer changes, which is critical, since we've built our reputation on quick-response manufacturing.

Our process has changed from having people enter data into spreadsheets and then chasing down designers for information, to a build-as-you-go concept. The design team is in charge of all the data until the style is sold, and then the production team takes over — a seamless, highly collaborative process.

It's amazing to have all the data in one place and know that it's always up to date. We're now following our production in real time and are able to fully utilize our Shanghai design room, allowing us to make quick design changes at the point of production.

Jonathan Riss
Artistic Director of the JAY AHR House

As artistic director of the Jay Ahr house, exploring new methods, materials and technologies is a vital part of my design process when developing each new collection. In an industry dominated by traditional methods, I am currently exploring the intersection between fashion and technology using 3D.

My embroideries and jewelry are luxurious, innovative and designed in a sustainable manner. I am working with the FashionLab from Dassault Systèmes to craft my embroideries and jewelry digitally in a 3D environment. This new solution lets me virtually design and assemble in a process less wasteful and greener than previous methods.

By working with FashionLab, I have implemented 3D design software that enables me to explore a new area of material and color mixtures. I can play with new colors, effects and textures, and am able to use virtual prototypes to test the feasibility and functionality of my designs before attempting to model it. Using materials like colored glass or satinated metal, I am able to experiment with new design possibilities for future collections.

Using 3D software to craft embroidery, I can create virtual prototypes before the physical ones. With this method I have eliminated the cost of eventual changes and adaptations as I can design directly into a virtual environment before creating the final piece, which would be more costly. I also save precious time, as I can collaborate faster with my team by sharing a virtual prototype online, avoiding extensive travel.

I am undoubtedly benefitting from the high value of the core Dassault Systèmes PLM platform, which connects my new way of designing and prototyping with the management of my sourcing and manufacturing. I am able, from the first moment of design, to review the impact on costs, the availability of sourcing and the impact on my supply chain in order to not only revisit the design choice if necessary, but also to support the industrialization of my jewelry or embroidery. In conclusion, the virtual design and prototyping completely optimizes my innovation phase, creating a transparent process for everyone involved when connected to PLM.
    
Allison Smith
Calendar and Special Project Manager, Façonnable

Founded in the 1950s by Jean Goldberg, Façonnable has long been one of the most celebrated international men’s wear brands worldwide thanks to its refined collections of classic French tailoring and resort wear. Acquired by M1 Group in 2007, Façonnable is enjoying a new era that brings with it a long-term vision to increase brand equity.  By championing its chic French Cote D’Azur origins and recommitting itself to quality craftsmanship, Façonnable has begun to reap the rewards of the new strategy.

At Façonnable, our main motivation for seeking a PLM solution was to streamline product development processes while following seasonal calendars. This enables quality products to reach our customers in a timely manner, while decreasing our lead times. After a comprehensive analysis of PLM solutions in the market, we chose Lectra Fashion PLM primarily because of the company’s experience with other fashion brands and their understanding of industry-specific challenges. Lectra is able to share industry knowledge and best practices with our team to ensure our processes meet and exceed industry standards.

Fashion PLM touches each phase of collection development, from concept to final production. Our teams, including merchandising, design, product development, retail/wholesale, production and logistics rely on the system to provide real-time product information for various business needs. Examples include costing and supplier performance. The process begins when the merchandising team develops a seasonal matrix; then, the creative team designs the collection with the product development team, which in turn builds each style in PLM.
   
Our teams depend on the system not only for detailed product information, but also for collaboration with other departments. For example, reports created in PLM are used for collection line reviews and margin checks; logistics accesses information to support customs compliance; and our internal production team relies on PLM for costing and needs for fabric and style ordering. Finally, Fashion PLM provides our external supply partners with all technical product information including fit specifications and product measurements.

Currently, more than 40 of our employees have access to the system and we anticipate that this number will rise as we continue to assimilate PLM further into our business. The team at Lectra has been invaluable throughout the integration — evaluating our process and advising on best practices, delivering solution training, and providing proactive product maintenance.

We have consolidated information in one central location, including integration with our ERP system, so that it is accessible to everyone involved. We have increased visibility and our understanding of a collection’s lifecycle, which has helped us work more efficiently and with real accountability. This has contributed to building improved collaboration and communication within our organization. Most importantly, Façonnable is achieving our goals of streamlining our process, shortening lead times and continuing to deliver high quality products to our customers.

Paul Short
Merchandising Director, JD Williams

When we first sought out a technology solution we were managing anywhere between 8,000 lines and 120,000 SKUs at any one time. There were stacks of critical paths being worked on and no overview of what any of the team employees had done with them or where they came from. Information was being managed through emails and spreadsheets as well as other technology systems that didn’t talk to each other.

We selected TradeStone’s MLM suite to provide us with a single version of the truth, which has enabled us to unify the design, sourcing, ordering and delivery of our goods. We started out with their collaborative sourcing and supplier community management solutions which enabled us to enhance the accuracy and accountability of our sample measurement by reducing turnaround times for samples and maintaining a more accurate sample history online. Additionally, our suppliers are now able to better understand what is expected of them and can self-audit the samples at the source before shipping them across the world.

We then expanded our footprint further with the solution’s quality management capabilities and have been able to reduce the costs incurred during the fit evaluations and sampling process by advancing the quality of products and reducing the number of hits needed for each of them. With TradeStone’s help we’ve been able to reduce returns by 22 percent by getting it right the first time.

We’re now moving into the next two phases,  establishing the solution as our purchase order system of record and then moving into their PLM for retail module to give us one solution for managing color, component/material and artwork libraries, defining color palettes, specifying product construction details and tech spec creation capabilities.

All in all, the solution has given us the opportunity to grow the business from around about a 500 million pound business to up to 700 million pounds. The benefits that I see are that it gives us one unified system across all buying and the entire merchandising floor, which enables us to look at our supply chain, and look at the way that we bring product into the business to make better margin and actually lower our returns rate. I’m a great supporter of it.

Robert Hunnicutt
Technology Project Manager, SPANX

Ten years ago, consumer-turned-entrepreneur Sara Blakely created the SPANX brand to give women of every shape and size the ability to feel confident and sexy in any fashion. Today, our products are sold by America’s finest retailers and boutiques as well as high-end retailers all over the world.

Prior to implementing PLM, SPANX managed the company’s product design and factory collaboration with manual processes. We ran the business on spreadsheets, as is typical with young companies. But with our rapid growth, it became harder to manage information and the flow of data. Our product line was growing tremendously, we added more staff, and the number of factories tripled within 12 months. We needed a PLM system to help us increase efficiency not only for product design but also purchase orders, production and shipping; we ultimately selected NGC's Extended PLM software for PLM and supply chain management.

We've definitely been able to streamline our product development process as a result of PLM. With the software, we can now organize product sketches, specifications and all digital assets much more efficiently. Our design team can pinpoint information on each product, regardless of the stage of development, and quickly make any necessary changes without searching through spreadsheets and emails. Our designers are also using their time more efficiently, which is allowing SPANX to have more products available and add flexibility into our design schedules.

On the supply chain side, we've seen major improvements in communication and collaboration with our factories; in fact, the system pays for itself with this benefit.  NGC's PLM allows us to collaborate with the factories, and each style has its own communication thread. Our manufacturers can simply log in to the system and have access to every piece of information they need, such as design specifications, measurements and production notes.

As a result of the improvements in design processes and production, SPANX is shortening the time it takes to move a product from design concept to production, allowing our retailers and customers to receive their orders faster. We’ve streamlined the flow of information and become more structured, which is allowing us to speed up the design process.

Jessica Scholfield
Business Analyst, PLM, Christopher and Banks

Christopher and Banks implemented YuniquePLM approximately two years ago.  The system was initially rolled out with internal users sharing real-time tech packs and style comments with vendors.  Since the implementation, Christopher and Banks has expanded PLM’s footprint by utilizing it to provide information to the e-commerce website, adjusting internal processes to shave several weeks off the production cycle, and is currently working on finalizing the ability to cost styles.

YuniquePLM houses information for the Christopher and Banks e-commerce site. The company is able to save time by utilizing information that is already input during the development process such as specification measurements, style descriptions and material details.  It also provides a centralized place to house additional requirements for the e-commerce website.

Recently, Christopher and Banks shaved weeks off the development calendar. The system has been a support tool for this process. For instance, users are able to put information directly into PLM during meetings, so that the information is ready to release to vendors quickly. Also, the company attaches artwork directly in PLM vs. mailing CDs to vendors, providing real-time access and saving costs.
 
Currently, Christopher and Banks is working on finalizing the ability to cost styles using PLM.  This is projected to save time by allowing vendors and internal users to place information into the same source, minimize copying and pasting, and providing real-time communications.

Jordan K. Speer is editor in chief of Apparel. She can be reached at jspeer@apparelmag.com.


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