By  on May 19, 1994

NEW YORK -- Simplicity Pattern Co. is bringing the benefits of computer-aided design to the home sewer.The company is a relative latecomer to CAD, and for good reason. Karen Burkhart, vice-president for product development, computerized systems, at the New York-based patternmaker, said her company needed a system that could produce both the patterns themselves and the written instructions that accompany them."The pattern industry is kind of like the stepchild of these systems," Burkhart said. "They didn't include text capabilities from the start."When the company finally made the move to CAD in 1992 it was with a system from Research Triangle Park, N.C.-based Assyst. The full system was up and running early last year. It has since allowed Simplicity to cut staff by 20 percent while drastically reducing the time it takes to produce patterns. Burkhart said the system will pay for itself in about a year. The total capital outlay, including hardware, was roughly $2 million.What Burkhart refers to as the company's CAD system is actually several systems linked by an Ethernet network. A color Macintosh system is used to produce the catalogs that sit next to pattern displays in retail stores. One CAD system is used to produce and grade the patterns and another lets Simplicity produce press-plate layouts and film. Both operate on UNIX platforms. The fourth is a publishing system used to produce the guide sheets that accompany the patterns and the envelopes that house them.Burkhart said that before the new systems were implemented, many different departments returned to work on a single pattern at different stages in its production; the creative writing, mechanical and typesetting departments were among them."We counted as many as 43 steps to create the mechanical portion of our product," she said. "Now, there are seven. We wanted to take the redundancy out of the process and decrease the production time."Burkhart described the problems that plagued Simplicity before the new systems were implemented."There was constant movement of information back and forth between departments," she said. "Information was input and reinput. We had so many repetitive steps. Work was done two, three, even four times. And the potential for keying in information incorrectly was high."Now, we've eliminated the need to reinterpret the work of others. Whoever originates the work puts it into the system in the form in which it will appear in the final product. The information is entered into the system once, and anyone can access it when they need it. Everyone is working on the same template."The grading and layout systems are the core of the process.The pattern and grading system lets Simplicity create master patterns on an electronic drafting table. The patterns are then graded to the variety of sizes Simplicity offers. The various sizes are "nest graded," the outline of each successively smaller size appearing inside the larger one. Text, Simplicity's prerequisite in selecting a CAD system, is used right on the pattern at this stage.The electronic pattern and grading system replaces full-size oak-tag patterns in each size. One room in the patternmaker's New York facility is still producing some patterns this way. Burkhart, however, said it will eventually be phased out.Once graded, the patterns move to a Unigraphics measuring and press-plate layout system. More text is added here, in English, French or Spanish, and the patterns are grouped by size. It is at this stage that the patterns take on the appearance they will have when the consumer opens the packet. Different pieces are juxtaposed electronically on a computer screen to fill the rectangular sheet with the least wasted space. The end product of this stage is film of the approved layout.A publishing system lets Simplicity editors assign standard sewing-instruction texts to the patterns without having to key in the actual instructions. This system may seem rigid, but Burkhart said it greatly minimizes the chances of keyboarding errors appearing on the final patterns. Guide sheets which accompany the patterns are produced on this system and then translated into French and Spanish by three staff translators.Simplicity hopes to bring its Niles, Mich., printing and distribution facility into the Ethernet network at a later date. For the moment, information is stored on SyQuest cartridges for shipment to that facility.Simplicity produces 500 new patterns annually, but the work does not end with the production of the patterns themselves. The company also produces several catalogs of its designs."At any given time, we have two brands in the works, and there could be three catalogs for each brand," Burkhart said.Production of the catalogs has been fully computerized. "It used to take us a week to do one page in a catalog," Burkhart said. "Now it can be done in several hours."The system is so much more efficient that Simplicity is producing the catalogs for its two British brands in its New York headquarters. "Now we are doing three times as much work because we've integrated the two British brands," Burkhart said.The pattern-making systems have also allowed Simplicity to do more custom patterns -- a move that has proven popular with Simplicity's retailer customers, according to Burkhart."Now we can do customized patterns for Wal-Mart and others," she said. "We did some of that in the past, but we would have to take key people away from their other duties in our production department to produce a product we can finish in half the time now."

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