In my most recent blog post, I posed a question regarding the evolution of CAD technologies in reference to shortened time frames for product development cycles. For the soft goods industry, the term CAD or Computer Aided Design refers to a broad range of software tools that can be used to support various stages of the design process. Within the context of this article, I am addressing applications including textile design, patternmaking, pattern grading, and marker development. Basic functionality for these applications has been widely available from CAD solution providers for years. Given this background, more recent technology upgrades have centered on some of the following areas to aid efficiency.
Enhancements to existing CAD functions to improve user experience and support task automation:
Expert or smart patternmaking systems have been available for a number of years and continue to be advanced. These software tools automate or eliminate repetitive tasks by offering the ability to program macros that act as a record of a series of actions undertaken by the software user. A macro can be created for editing a pattern piece or style. Once created, the macro can be called upon for ease of editing additional patterns. In some instances, expert systems also allow the user to designate links or parent/child relationships between patterns. In this context, a change to one pattern piece is automatically executed for linked pieces and/or styles. Envision a scenario where the pattern maker needs to adjust a selection of cotton t-shirts by a given length for the current season. By employing macros or links, this action can be executed more efficiently. These capabilities are sometimes offered as an alterations strategy for a made-to-measure product as well. Macros have also been included within marker programs.
With respect to development of size ranges, software exists for the creation of grading zones or masks. Grading direction and increment is first defined for the mask. The mask can then be applied to a pattern piece and points falling within the boundaries of the mask grade accordingly. Once defined, the zone can be copied to other pattern pieces or other areas of the same pattern piece and edited if needed. An added benefit of this strategy is the ability to clearly visualize how the pattern is growing through the size range. It can also be used to help ensure consistency of grading strategy through a series of styles.
Integration between CAD and PLM to support accuracy and ease of transitioning data through various stages of product development:
Within the pattern and marker making modules, measurement charts and reports containing information about piece area and marker length can be automatically generated. Once generated, a chart or report can be exported to Excel or PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) software for rapid generation of technical product specifications and BOMs (Bill Of Materials). In some cases, the design team can attach color specifications, patterns, markers and even 3D images to the technical package being developed within a PLM solution. Where vendors offer software for concept development and line planning, initial style approval can trigger transition of relevant and approved product information into the product data system for further development. Down the line, information regarding products that have been approved for manufacturing can transition to ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems where there is greater focus on financials, logistics, compliance and overall management of the product through the supply chain and retail setting.
Integration of color specification and management tools for informed development and accurate communication of color information:
Within the textile design environment accurate specification and communication of color have been of focus for technology development. From a practical perspective this means that software users have the ability to work with color that is defined in a device independent way. The designer can capture the spectral data from a physical color sample or standard using a color measurement instrument (spectrophotometer). Alternatively, the designer can identify a color using numerical models. A numerical model (sometimes referred to as a color space) describes features such as Hue, Saturation, Lightness (HSL); Hue, Saturation and Value (HSV); or Lightness and Chroma (LAB). In many instances, designers are able to develop and/or draw from color palette libraries that are associated with color standards such as Pantone. Information for colors selected can then be communicated to manufacturing partners as part of the lab dip or sampling process. Samples submitted to the retailer or brand owner can then be evaluated for accuracy in reference to the color standard.
At the vendor level CAD technology providers have partnered with vendors of color measurement and management solutions to build capabilities into the textile CAD system. Color standards providers have partnered with dye manufacturers so that color formulation information for a standard can be provided to the dye house along with the spectral information. The ultimate goal of this integration is to support informed decision making early in the process and reduce the number of iterations required within the lab dip/textile sampling stage.
Expansion of basic product offerings to support multiple phases and functions within the development process:
Many CAD vendors now offer a suite of products or modules that can be purchased individually or as a group. These products can include various combinations of programs including software for concept development, technical sketching, line planning, textile design, patternmaking/grading/marking, product visualization and centralization of technical product data. By providing a total solution the technology provider can better support manual and automatic movement of product data from one software module to the next. In today’s market, most vendors of apparel CAD strive to meet the needs of their customers by offering some level of PLM. Depending on the history and technologies of the provider, a PLM system may offer greater abilities with respect to aesthetic design, technical design and/or transition to manufacturing.
Development of 3D visualization tools in support of improved communication between development and manufacturing partners:
Most vendors of CAD for apparel design currently offer a solution for 3D visualization of the garment on an avatar (digital human). Although there are multiple solution providers for 3D visualization, the general strategy for creating the 3D garment is quite similar from vendor to vendor. This strategy involves virtually stitching the 2D pattern and draping the pattern on the avatar. In most cases, the avatar can be customized in terms of body dimension or shape to better represent the fit model or target customer. The capabilities of such systems will be discussed in greater detail in future blog posts. For now, it’s important to mention that the purpose of the visualization tool is to support early assessment of garment style and fit at the design or pattern making level. These solutions are also offered to support communication between development partners with respect to design intent and/or development issues. The general theme being, “A picture is worth a thousand words” and in the emerging CAD environment the picture is in 3D.
I’ve touched on a variety of CAD capabilities in this post and as the title states; ‘lean’ is the theme that connects the trends described. Reducing waste through automation and elimination of repetitive tasks, communication of accurate information, centralization of product data, and ability to identify issues early in the product development cycle are all strategies that contribute to a lean product development method. Check back for additional posts that touch on some of these capabilities in greater detail and learn about the connection between lean and sustainable.