A FUTURE THAT FITS
MASS CUSTOMIZATION OF APPAREL LOOMS LARGE AT THE BOBBIN SHOW.
Byline: Georgia Lee
ATLANTA — Imagine a future where anyone could conjure up an idea for a garment, from design, color and print to individualized fit; and then have it cut and sewn digitally, all in a matter of minutes.
That future is now. Or at least, the technology to enable mass customization is available today, although its everyday application by manufacturers or consumers still lies down the road. Right now, technology developers are jumping at the chance to commercialize systems capable of manipulating design, prints, sizes, etc., in digital formats. Futuristic innovations already in prototype include body-scanning booths that can record individual measurements in seconds and virtual try-on systems that can manipulate images to change color, print or fabric specifications, all instantly, as part of the design process.
In the next stage, new Web-based software powers computer-aided design (CAD) systems to communicate directly with production, cutting and sewing systems. All this automation is intended to save the most precious commodity in the process: time. As today’s savvy consumers want products faster, cheaper and better, retailers are demanding the same of manufacturers.
Mass customization, along with a range of similar technological advances to speed up manufacturing, was a key focus at the Bobbin Americas Show, held Sept. 13-15 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.
Technology is the fastest growing segment of the show, which also includes conventional manufacturing equipment, fabric trims and supplies for apparel industry.
At this show, the “Digital Zone,” an exhibit sponsored by TC2, a Cary, N.C., research organization, and Miller Freeman, Bobbin America’s sponsoring organization, spotlighted some of the most exciting innovations in mass customization. Fifteen exhibitors demonstrated how currently available technology may be put to business purposes in the near future.
Exhibitor Gerber Garment Technology introduced several new systems for implementing mass customization.
Gerber’s new software, for example, can provide data that translates a pattern piece as individualized size data, rather than a standard size. This would render a garment, say, “size Jane Doe,” rather than size six. Gerber’s virtual try-on systems allows a garment on a customized shape in virtual space to be manipulated while still in a CAD system.
“Mass customization is hot as a pistol,” said Peter Tredwin, vice president, sales and marketing. “In the big picture, the concept is so profound; it will change the way we do things forever.” Tredwin added that automotive and furniture industries are further along than soft goods in the practical application of mass customization.
Around 1,000 visitors to Gerber’s booth at Bobbin got a rudimentary taste of the technology. After specifying personalized factors such as their size and their name, and choosing features including pockets, binding, etc., the visitors watched as their very own mass-customized apron was produced in approximately eight minutes.
Lectra Systems, another tech exhibitor, introduced an E Prototype Solution system that includes software and machines to print and cut fabrics. The system enables electronic production of a garment, from design to sewing, in one hour, compared with a typical waiting time of six weeks. The system can design original fabric and style, print fabrics digitally and cut and sew.
In a joint venture with Atlanta-based Gallery Software, Lectra also introduced a new body scanner that takes body measurements in 10 to 15 seconds, then stores a digital image with which it can transform custom-fit patterns on demand. It also demonstrated a new digital printer can manipulate virtual mannequins with color, style and print. Lectra also has a new Web site, LectraOnline, where manufacturers can get information, order parts for systems, receive a training session and share specs with contractors.
Metamediaries, an Atlanta-based technology firm, introduced business-to-business e-commerce software designed for small-to-medium manufacturers and retailers. Through virtual storefronts and showrooms, buyers can review products and services; request proposals, quotes and credit requirements; place orders, and then tie data into enterprise resource planning systems.
The cost-effective system, which serves as a central data repository, is offered through the DAMA project, a TC2-sponsored initiative that brings manufacturers, research and universities together.
Several new technology features can be used for embroidery, an area that has exploded as recent fashion has embraced embellishment. Pulse Microsystems, an Ontario, Canada-based company, offered a collaborative Web-based embroidery design system called Stitch Port. The system allows manufacturers to build an electronic file of designs and specs to then pass the information to embroidery machines for rapid production. Other innovations include a cloth simulator by a French company, Relections Fabrix, which demonstrates how various fabrics move and perform in a three-dimensional, movie-like format.
Despite the obvious temptation to turn such specific new technologies into panaceas, exhibitors emphasized that the industry should take a careful, big-picture approach to implementation.
“More than any one thing, companies need a holistic solution, examining all technology for how it can work for your business,” said Bob Fulenwider, director, information systems, TC2.