PHILADELPHIA — Since The Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science has a number of different computer-aided design systems, we are often asked which is best. The question is one designers can better answer themselves. Potential CAD users should define their needs, set goals, try out systems and then make a decision. Everyone’s needs are different.
The first thing a company must do is establish its goals based on its products, its customers and its method of doing business. What do you want to do with the system? What do you want the system to do for you in six months? In one year? Longer range? Since the questions and answers will differ for the different areas of your company, form a team of design and technical people, including the manufacturing segment, systems analysts and managers, from the outset of this project. It only takes more time when the stylist and mill are working on two separate sets of priorities. Everyone’s priorities must be put into the mix from the beginning.
The team should ponder the following questions:
Will the system be used solely to design for production or will it also be used for marketing (creating paper simulations, mapping onto apparel or furniture)?
Do you plan to generate more designs or generate them faster?
How do you want this system to affect your sampling time and material. Do you want to expand into desktop publishing? Would cataloging be useful for your yarns, patterns, color lines?
What portion of each line is older patterns?
How will you want to configure your work force? Will every designer have a work station, or will all the designers have to share? Then there is a whole area of questions that relate to the physical layout and lighting.
Last but not least, what price range do you have for this venture? This must be calculated over a period of time and include maintenance, upgrades and materials. Training you work force is also a cost to consider. But keep in mind that just meeting the cost criteria without addressing performance is a waste.
Make a matrix of the company’s priorities that incorporates all the various interests of the team. Now you are ready to survey what is available on the market. Do keep in mind that the priorities you have set must remain flexible. They are a guide and should not become a rigid lock.

Comparison Shop
The systems available to each segment of the textile industry are ever-changing. New systems are continually coming into the country. Established systems are forming new alliances. All are developing new software. Begin by attending the trade fairs to survey all that is available in your product area.
It is a buyer’s market. Start with a large list and make appointments with each vendor. Have your designer or whoever will be using the equipment along with you. And bring some of your most current patterns, a few of your most difficult ones and some things planned for the future. The same designs should be tried on every system. You want to push the equipment to cover your future growth as well as today’s needs. Having some of the experienced design staff be part of the system selection has a lot of merit. Tell the vendor what you would like to see when you set up the appointment. This will allow him to focus on your particular needs. Take your list of requirements to the demos, and make sure all your needs are addressed..
This process can require many visits. Make sure that your designers are working on the systems, not just watching someone else’s magic hands move. You wouldn’t buy a car without getting behind the wheel. You may want the system to simultaneously show the finished weave, knit or overall print pattern as you work on one small area. Concealed yarns and crowded textures are important to some areas. Fancy yarns and yarn effects are also important to some. Again, are you more interested in the screen simulation or the printout? Color generation is more critical for some areas. A catalog or library of frequent patterns or established colors for the season may be of more interest. Scanning pattern input or mapping for end use displays are also features that may or may not be important. If selling from printed simulations is high on your priority list, then you must be more critical. Some colors such as true red are more difficult to obtain. Find out about upkeep of equipment, calibration and reproducibility of color, cost of paper and replacement of inks or films. The printer can be a money pit if you don’t do your homework upfront.
If you want to link several design stations to a single printer or scanner, then networking must be explored. This goes back to how you envision the work space. If you want to have the New York designer communicate with mill designers and/or be on line with manufacturing equipment or engraving, then someone who understands those constraints must be brought into the decision-making process early. Do you have older equipment that you want to link to the new CAD system? Questions of compatibility must be answered by a computer systems specialist as you start to survey the market. Flexibility is important.
The most important questions to ask as your designers are falling in love with a system are the ones about maintenance, upgrades and training. Vendors vary widely in this area, and it must be included in the cost calculations. Software is continually changing. The service factor is important, as is the cost of training your designers on each upgrade. Downtimes never occur at convenient times.
We all have to pause periodically and remind ourselves of the difference between computer operators and textile designers. The CAD system is and should remain a wonderful tool to facilitate, not drive, the design process. Having someone technical in the decision process will save headaches down the line. For example, print pattern repeats must fit the size of your rotary screens, and weaves in jacquards must interface smoothly. Will the system meet you technical needs?
Since it is more than likely that no vendor will have everything on your list, another major question is how willing are they to make modifications or customize the system to your needs? Make these agreements part of your selling arrangements and costs.
Keep going back to your own list of priorities, modifying them as need be. This process may take six months to a year. If at all possible, check references. Ask for people who are using the system. Although this is a “close-to-the-vest” industry, companies will usually share maintenance and overall satisfaction information. Then realize you may make a good decision or a poor one. The important thing is to decide. We hear horror stories from the vendors about companies that have had trial equipment in-house for months and still can’t commit. There will never be a perfect system . But to go without one is aiming for oblivion.

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