Earlier this year WhichPLM was invited to Manchester Metropolitan University to discuss the importance of an education in PLM; this article gives an overview of MMU’s Department of Apparel, as well as covering two guest lectures, delivered in late February/early March by WhichPLM’s CEO & Founder, Mark Harrop.
WhichPLM prides itself on producing informative, unbiased and insightful material for our readers. Education is at the heart of all that we do; we thrive on our ability to impart industry knowledge and insights to anyone and everyone requiring it. So, it will come as no surprise that we were delighted to receive an invite to the Department of Apparel at Manchester Metropolitan University earlier this year – an invite to discuss the PLM industry as we see it today, and an invite that would lock in two future guest lectures from WhichPLM’s own CEO, Mark Harrop.
MMU’s Department of Apparel gives prospective students worldwide (undergraduate or postgraduate) ample choice when selecting a course. And, from a PLM perspective, we all know how important the selection process is! The majority of courses are taught out of the Hollings university building – a newly refurbished multi-million pound building situated right in the hustle and bustle of Manchester’s fashion scene. What some readers may not know is that this Department was not always located where we find it today, on the All Saints Campus. The decision to move the Hollings Faculty to this Campus was a recent one, and one that will ensure MMU’s Fashion students benefit from the fresh resources and services offered inside for years to come.
Parts of the Hollings building have been renovated, yet it keeps some very quaint original features; the bottom half of the trendy atrium houses tall glass offices, meeting rooms and a modern meeting ‘pod’, whilst the upper half retains some original department store features – features unusable today, but no doubt wonderfully nostalgic for lecturers, and a great reference point for students. It’s great to see a contemporary building reflecting a truly modern department, whilst showing students where the local retail industry began in Manchester. What better place to mold the future generation of apparel manufacturers, buyers, merchandisers and managers than an original retail setting?
Not only is the faculty lobby reminiscent of a department store, but in the upstairs sewing rooms students and lecturers also have the ability to create a factory-like environment. Moveable glass panels divide each working hub, meaning that classes can be taught in isolation, as well as on a much larger scale. When opened up, the setting spans almost the entire length of the second floor, to create a much more realistic factory environment with the complete process flow of design to final fitting.
In fact, all of the Apparel facilities have come a very long way in recent years. The Department is now filled with state of the art machines, multi-functional spaces, up-to-date cutting machines and even 3D printers. The department uses Gerber’s 2D Accumark pattern-making and engineering solution, and some of the newer facilities include: a fully equipped Apparel Resource Centre; a Textile Laboratory; a Product Innovation Hub; 3D Computer Aided Design Studios; Fashion Technology Studios; a dedicated final year Fashion Design Studio; and a dedicated Placement & Employability Zone.
As I’m sure you are becoming aware: MMU uses many of the solutions that the next generation of buyers and merchandisers are going to find within the fashion retailers and brands of today. For final year students going out into the industry, it’s important that they know how these solutions can be connected in a formal PLM framework.
This, amongst other reasons, prompted WhichPLM’s invite to lecture to students both at the beginning of their journey (first year) and those getting ready to enter the industry (third year). The courses in question are taught primarily by Maria Malone and Victoria Markham, both of whom are ex-industry experts. Maria is the ex-QA Manager of Clothing for Littewoods Shop Direct Group (from 1988 to 2001) and for the past few years she has served as the Programme Leader for MMU’s BA (Hons) Fashion Buying & Merchandising course. Vicki is an ex-Business Analyst, also for Littlewoods Shop Direct, and since 2007 she has been the Deputy Course Leader for the Fashion Buying & Merchandising course, as well as a Senior Lecturer & Exchange Partnership Manager for MMU. Vicki has an educational focus on Business Communications, Business Strategy and CAD.
As ex-industry experts, who took their first steps into (Web)PDM over a decade ago, Maria and Vicki are now educating the next generation of professionals on the Apparel sector as a whole. Having been in the industry when PDM was still at the forefront, Maria and Vicki enlisted Mark Harrop to lecture on the transition of PDM to PLM, and how the systems/solutions students are familiar with can all be connected via the introduction of a modern PLM solution.
Lecture One: Introduction to PLM
WhichPLM’s first guest lecture, delivered by Mark, was to first year students on the Business Communications course. Whilst the students were piling into the lecture theatre I couldn’t help but think how many bodies were filling up the seats; I don’t remember lecture turnout being quite so good during my university years! As these students were just at the beginning of their university journey, they weren’t overly familiar with PLM.
In true Mark Harrop style, the lecture was laid-back, informative and anecdotal. Of course, these anecdotes come from decades of relevant experience. The students were really engaged from the outset; opening with his first years in the industry (at a similar age to the students), Mark connected with the room. His fear and bewilderment of stepping out into the working world obviously resonated.
I spent the 45-minute lecture sandwiched between furious note-takers; they scribbled notes on PDM, CPM, and PLM. The students learnt the difference between PDM and PLM, having previously believed they were one and the same. Mark explained PDM as “the information of a product” and PLM as the ideology which joins all of this information. He explained how PLM “joins the dots” of an enterprise.
The lecture emphasized the collaborative nature of PLM – how dysfunctional the older way of working was, and how the introduction of PLM eliminated the silo mentality (when departments and individuals work in isolation from one another), connecting people and departments like never before. The lecture was as rich with information as any 45-minute lecture can be.
Towards the end, Mark touched upon ‘advanced PLM’ and the inclusion, today, of the marketing department and social media in PLM. He questioned the room on the use of social media, asking “why is it important with regards to PLM?” One rather clever student used a fairly recent example: ‘The Dress’. I am presuming here that most readers are familiar with ‘The Dress’, but just in case, some information can be found here.
Regardless of whether one views ‘The Dress’ as blue and black or as white and gold, the sheer exposure shows how powerful a tool social media can be. It isn’t every day one tweet causes a viral frenzy, and warrants a Wikipedia page. Imagine a well-known brand was connected to the dress – imagine it as a French Connection dress, or a Ted Baker dress – and you can see the power of social media. All that publicity! Publicity that can be tracked and analysed within PLM.
These first year students are, as I write this, working on a business report on the importance of branding, in which they take a fashion range and continue its development. In this report, they must explain how they have improved the range, and how PLM has improved it. I believe Mark’s guest lecture will help to answer any questions that were surrounding this, as well as offer a general overview of PDM and PLM.
The lecturer for this Business & Communications course, Victoria Markham, provided us with some kind words on the experience:
[quote]“Mark laid the foundations for our students to understand how PLM has evolved and where it originated from. He put into simple terms how PLM can and will assist companies both large and small. The students were impressed with Mark’s experience, knowledge and down to earth approach to a subject they have no prior knowledge of. I will be drawing from his presentation and making reference to many of his points as part of my Business Strategy unit for my final years. This unit explore project management along with process analysis and PLM will be explored in-depth with my students so they fully understand its place and importance in our industry.”[/quote]
Lecture Two: Exploring PLM
WhichPLM’s second lecture delved even further. This one, two-hours long, was delivered to third year Buying & Merchandising students. These students were already somewhat savvy in the world of product management, having been learning for the last few years. Although a light blanket of apprehension covered the lecture theatre when Mark confirmed he was “going to pick on people,” those students that were ‘picked on’ showed themselves to be knowledgeable indeed – despite modern PLM not being on the core syllabus. They were informed on what we term PDM, and not necessarily on PLM. Mark learnt this after asking the room: “Do we all know what PLM is?”
For the first third of the lecture Mark explained the difference between both systems, and the importance in knowing that they are indeed, different. In short, PDM is history and PLM is where we are today, and where we have been for some years. Although PLM is constantly improving and evolving, it’s important that we stop thinking of PDM and PLM as the same. And even more important, that we teach the professionals of tomorrow this.
One of the main focuses of this lecture was on people and their collaboration. Although we’d been asked to focus on ‘people’ preceding the lecture, this didn’t really change the course of things. After all, people are paramount to any business. Designers, merchandisers, technologists, and stakeholders are all critical to a business, and PLM connects them all.
Familiar with PDM, the students were taught the importance of implementing PLM successfully. Far too often we find that companies purchase PLM only to implement PDM, meaning that HQ might be using PLM, but as soon as they include other departments and offices via email they have broken the chain. Communicating and sending specifications via email removes the connection from within PLM and is not the most effective way of working.
After explaining briefly the history of PDM, CPM and PLM, as well as the difference between them, in the latter part of the lecture Mark delved deeper into what exactly is covered by a modern PLM system. In order to do this, he walked through the typical (60+) processes a modern retailer or brand has today (management, production, colours, trims etc.) and how these are connected by PLM.
The ability to include the creative teams in PLM through deep integration to the creative design tools including 2D, 3D, Adobe Suite, for example, is a massive benefit today; it not only helps on-board the creative team but it also speeds everything up and eliminates extra administration work and time. Similarly, Corporate Social Responsibility can now be incorporated into PLM. CSR has only recently become such a hot topic. Price isn’t everything today – as it once was – and companies are more concerned with quality of working conditions and sustainable manufacturing than ever before. PLM can help retailers and brands with their CSR goals by connecting to many local, regional or worldwide laws and regulations.
Mark concluded his session by involving the room again. He targeted a few individuals and asked, “What do you want to do?” Given that the space was filled with students enrolled on the Buying & Merchandising BA (Hons) course it is hardly surprising that the answers were “a buyer” and “a merchandiser”. The reason for the question was to explain how PLM will and is being used to support these roles in particular. So, for a merchandiser PLM can help to inform and provide a financial and graphical picture of the entire collection that a group of factories will be making at any point in time, and is capable of making. It takes into account types of skills, machinery, product expertise, BOL, Chinese New Year, international and/or other religious holidays. And for a buyer, it can auto-calculate the price of making X products with X materials, X trims, and X margin etc.
Despite a lot of furious note-taking during the second half of the lecture, many students afterwards asked for the information to be sent digitally, as it was so valuable and they didn’t manage to jot everything down.
Following the lecture was a thorough Q&A session, in which we were all invited for ‘coffee and cake’ in an informal setting. This gave students the opportunity to pick Mark’s brain further, and they certainly did. With many students having come from a placement year (making this year effectively their fourth year on the course) with some of the best retailers and brands and in the world, their interest and excitement levels surrounding PLM were high. They had seen PDM first-hand, and so could appreciate the benefits a modern PLM solution could bring to a company.
MMU offers terrific placement opportunities to students, both in the UK and internationally. As well as this they offer an international summer school, in which UK students can experience an otherwise unknown country and university, and international students can do the same. MMU holds a strong partnership with universities all over the globe – Toronto to name just one location.
[quote]“I want to express how interesting I found Mark’s guest lecture on the development of PLM. He was such a nice guy, and we all really appreciated the fact that he stayed for questions. He helped me out a lot regarding one part of my dissertation (which is on social media and the luxury market); he went into the topic in great detail for me and showed me some interesting articles in the WhichPLM Annual Review.” Natalie Vickers, Third Year Student, Fashion Buying & Merchandising BA (Hons), Manchester Metropolitan University.[/quote]
Since attending MMU, WhichPLM has received numerous emails from students keen to learn more. And beginning with enrollment on the WhichPLM Academy bronze courses, students and lecturers alike can do just that. With an exceptionally high employment success rate coming from the Department of Apparel, it is wonderful to know that these students will bring an understanding of modern technology systems to their professional lives.
[quote]“For me, the biggest benefit to Mark’s guest lectures is that he taught the students so much on PLM, that they can now see how it pulls together all of the units within the Buying & Merchandising course across all three years of study.” Maria Malone, Programme Leader, Fashion Buying & Merchandising BA (Hons), Manchester Metropolitan University.[/quote]
After establishing a relationship with two of the UK’s top universities, WhichPLM & WhichPLM Academy are keen to expand their educational arm, and are looking for their next partner.