GREENSBORO, N.C.--Reality is playing a major role in the latest technology being offered by suppliers of computer-aided design systems to textile designers.
Several systems on display at a recent Computer Integrated Textile Design Association (CITDA) conference offered true three-dimensional realism on the computer screen.
Stork Screens America, showing its VDM-2000 Virtual Design Modeling Station, said it was offering textile designers "a tool to model their designs in near-realistic environments."
CIS Graphics showed its dobby design system for weaving, "which is unique because we actually produce renderings in the 3D models to achieve realism," said Richard Ellis, representative.
Sophis USA introduced its Concept Visualizer 3D system, which came about through a joint venture with ModaCAD.
"We have joined forces with ModaCAD," said Glenn Rin-derman, Sophis sales manager. "They've adapted their software for the textile industry and this system enables our customers to put that concept visualizing system on the network with the Sophis system. They can take design simulations, for example, to the concept visualizer and drape them on the furniture, apparel or whatever."
The Concept Visualizer, designed for Sophis by ModaCAD, has full design, merchandising and point-of-sale capabilities. It offers 3D simulation.
Most of the systems shown by more than 30 vendors at the conference offered 2.5-dimensional concepts, which give a 3D effect but are not considered "true" 3D systems.
Although many designers gave the 3D systems high marks for realism, representatives of several major companies believed the systems are currently too expensive to justify and too time consuming.
Katy Chapman, CAD system supervisor in the Springmaid/
Performance division of Springs Industries, said, "The 3D as opposed to 2.5D is a bit out of our league at the present time. It really involves someone with an engineering or industrial design background to actually build those frames in a 3D setting. The time involved in that and the type of computer equipment cost upfront is tremendous. I don't know that our customers would get enough feedback or information from it to make it worthwhile. I think the 2.5D texture mapping on a photograph is the way to go for now until something happens that allows us to do it in a more effective way."
Pamela Leland, image technology specialist, Levi Strauss & Co., said, "In my opinion, the 3D technology that is being shown at the conference isn't quite to the point where it would be usable enough for Levi's to be able to implement it in a fashion that would really help us right now. It's just not something that is feasible with the technology that is out there. We do try to stay familiar with what is happening and position ourselves so that when something does come out that we can really use, we're ready to jump on it."
At a cost of about $90,000 for Stork's VDM-2000, Linda McHugh, Stork Screens' applications specialist, agreed that it is expensive technology. "However, expensive is relative," she added. "This is true 3D. You can actually move all around the room and see it from all angles. It's created with wire frames and then the design is mapped onto that surface, so it is truly three dimensional."
Rich Riley, manager of CAD services, Jantzen, Inc., said, "The 3D technology has its place and I think the industry will get there, but it's still going to take a little bit. Right now, you have to worry about your draping capabilities using 3D with apparel. I looked at Stork's 3D system, but I was more interested in efforts to print on fabric."
Alison Grudier, an industry consultant, agreed that printing on fabric is the next technological advancement for designers. "Instead of doing digital prints on paper, which is what we do now, it is digital prints on cloth," she explained. "It's something people have been talking about for years and experimenting with in limited capabilities. I know several vendors that are working on that technology, so at next year's CITDA show, I expect to see some pretty interesting ways to print directly on fabric instead of paper."Open Systems, Open Minds
Although CITDA is still less than two years old, some observers pointed out that the conference showed a new cohesiveness among its members.
"I noticed far more people talking to each other," said Grudier. "This used to be an industry where everyone was concerned about someone finding out what they were doing with their CAD system. There was a change in attitude and direction this year. They weren't looking at the CAD system as a competitive tool anymore. They were looking at it as a design tool to be shared so that we all come out ahead. Even the vendors were much more casual this year."
Gina Webster, CITDA chair, said vendors have added to the success of the organization. "We could have set it [CITDA] up very differently. It could have been a very adversarial relationship. Through their customers we could have forced them to do what we needed, but it's much better to have their input, ideas and cooperation."
Textile designers want vendors of computer-integrated design (CID) systems to cooperate in complying with certain standards to make the systems more compatible with each other.
Mike Keating, manager of color and imaging systems at Cone Mills Corp. and CITDA textile vice-chair, said designers need compatible procedures in file format, compression and color standards.
"One of the biggest issues we're facing is that all systems be compatible so that everybody can talk to one another," he explained. "A customer like Levi Strauss would want to buy a system knowing full well that they could communicate with their customers or suppliers, and right now you can't do that."
Keating said the association's first priority is design-file format, "which means that if all vendors are compliant with that standard, then all vendors will be able to talk to each other. If one customer has an Info Design system, and another has a Sophis system, and still a third has TCS, with the standard in place, everybody can talk to each other. We're going to call it CITDA compliance."
The group's research committee is supporting TIFF [tag image file format] as the standard for file format compliance.
During the conference, 13 vendor systems were tested to see if their systems were compatible and only six passed the test. "The purpose was to get vendors to realize that this is serious," Keating said.
CITDA expects to publish the standards and the method by which all vendors can comply with them by next month. After the standards are published, the group plans to publish a list of vendors that are in compliance on a regular basis.
Grudier said the standards are extremely important for designers. "It used to be that when you signed on with one CAD vendor, you signed on for life, but I'm finding more companies will have two or three different kinds of CAD systems internally. As they try to transmit files around to approval processes, they have to be able to convert to other systems, so most of the designers are facing this problem."
The standards are crucial to Levi's CAD operation. "It's going to be very important for us as we pull in more and more different types of tools to have standards that are easily readable and color that is consistent," said Leland.
Chapman said standardization of CAD systems would also be welcomed at Springs. "It's definitely something that needs to happen."
This year's CITDA conference drew about 500 fabric designers, merchandisers, stylists and managers to Greensboro's Koury Convention Center.

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