In the sixth of our exclusive interviews from January’s NRF show in New York City, Kilara Le, caught up with Gerber Technology’s Vice President & General Manager of Enterprise Software Solutions, Bill Brewster. Bill discusses the show this year and the company’s strategy going forward.
Kilara Le: What are your impressions of the show so far this year?
Bill Brewster: What we are seeing is that its not just about PLM or product ideation, its about planning and how we help our customers get their products on the shelves on time, on budget and on trend. Some of the questions you and others are asking here fit really well with our direction and strategy going forward. We have an abundance of solutions all designed to integrate together, that help us implement this strategy. So it’s not just about PLM, as I said.
KL: What are some of the things you are hearing and seeing that fit with Gerber’s strategy going forward?
BB: We’re encountering a lot around the IoT enabling the exchange of information and data. At Gerber we have been using the IoT for several years now in our production automation solutions. The utility of this technology will continue to evolve and enable our customers to have greater visibility into the supply chain. We are investing in the IoT and how that can be leveraged to help our customers produce products faster, and get them on the right shelf at the right time for the right cost.
With Gerber, all of the product information can be stored in one place – line planes, product specifications, 2D & 3D visuals, and other digital assets and product elements. What we are seeing, and I was discussing earlier today with a CIO of a major retailer, is the interest in 3D. People are looking at 3D to not only reduce their cost and time in sampling but they are leveraging those assets in digital channels. It’s really exciting when we hear that because we are a year into our new 3D solution that is integrated directly within AccuMark, supporting both 3D and 2D development, and this month we’ll be launching version 2 which will deliver greater benefits for our 3D users. 3D being fully integrated with our 2D CAD pattern making software will change the traditional ways of working, allowing the new generation of pattern makers to explore 3D prototypes and avoid costly samples.
KL: The 3D platform is open sourced, using Blender, correct?
BB: Yes, it’s leveraging the open sourced rendering platform of Blender to enable us to move very quickly and enable our users to take advantage of a much larger community of developers that will help to deliver exciting advancements. What we are is an industry solutions provider with a deep knowledge of product design and development as well as business process, so we are leveraging what we consider to be the best 3D rendering tools available out there. We are doing this in a very integrated and seamless way for our customers, which provide a very rich experience for them and also provides a roadmap for a technology future for them. This is because it is open source and our customers using 3D will be able to take advantage of this technology and things like advancements in animation.
We are making leaps and bounds in new feature capabilities with big investments in 3D right now, and we are very excited about what’s to come.
KL: It also relates to your cutting solutions – how does that interface with 3D and how can you envision some of your other products fitting into this world of the IoT?
BB: One of the things we see is that the IoT can provide real time visibility as to what is going on, on the shop floor (production floor). For instance, the merchandiser might want to have visibility in PLM as to the status of a particular purchase order and they are getting some real time market data now from your retail outlet or e-commerce. And they can have real time visibility as to what is happening on the factory floor, what’s being produced at that moment which may allow them to course correct or make changes in products (colors, sizes etc.) that are in line to be produced. This is also with regards to what has and has not yet been produced. So, we see that as a big advantage in planning deliveries to the stores.
Many of our customers have both our hardware and software products, so by creating a closed loop of information and exchanging this with PLM, 2D & 3D CAD, (because that could get updated as well based on market changes such as “we no longer need this size”) that will be reflected on the production markers which could be updated for the vendor. It’s really helping to close the loop and provide real time capability. We see this type of integration extending across multiple hardware and software solutions typically found in the extended supply-chain.
KL: Is there a connection now between PLM and cut order planning? What are you doing around the whole idea of the IoT?
BB: We will be announcing some very interesting information management updates in the very near future that are linked to the question of the IoT.
We have a large number of overarching solutions for the industry and what we are focusing on now is what we call our overall digital solution strategy to take all of our software and, use IoT technologies on both our hardware and software assets, with the aim of integrating them all seamlessly over time.
Once you are sharing information between these areas, it’s just a matter of capturing more information and continuing to share it across the supply-chain. We will definitely see more [factory] shop floor visibility in the future but right now we have capabilities linked to a variety of things via dashboards that support decision-making. We definitely see PLM as a connector of the IoT. We are seeing a lot of interest in the sharing of information and real-time visibility to really speed the process from concept to sample development and management through production tracking and visibility.
KL: In terms of where the future is with that reduction in cycle time, are you seeing more interest in sample manufacturing in-house versus overseas, or small batch manufacturing closer to the point of sale?
BB: We have many customers who are doing their sampling right here in New York City and I’m sure that is going to continue and expand with the use of 3D in the sample process. We do see customers wanting to produce more often, and be more flexible and agile and able to react quickly to market demands. So again, having that data flow really increases speed to market. If products or certain colors aren’t selling, they can have greater ability to react.
KL: Are there any point of sale or EDI companies you are working with?
BB: We are working with many technology partners to enable our customers to reduce time to market with innovative solutions that fully integrate throughout the value chain of bringing products to market.
KL: Do you have any other types of systems, or ways, to display or use information that you can share with our readers?
BB: In a release about a year ago we introduced integrated line and financial line planning. We will continue to innovate around integrated merchandise planning which closes the lifecycle loop. Where do you take those products to market and which products, styles and colors go into which market? That closes the loop and also helps customers know which products they are developing, and how that aligns with the last year or last season.
KL: So that is coming down the pipeline, the merchandise line planning?
BB: Right now we have integrated top down and bottom up financial line planning and line range planning and some level of assortment planning.
KL: So we know that Gerber’s PLM was released on the cloud last year; what is your experience so far?
BB: Cloud is pretty core to what our plan is going forward. We are offering PLM on the cloud and have customers using it. We were the first, and as far as I know the only company, to offer free trials of our solution on the cloud. People can just sign up and try it out.
KL: And am I correct in thinking CAD is not a part of this?
BB: No, it isn’t a part of it currently.
KL: Tell me about real-time access through your PLM solution.
BB: Whether it is on the cloud or on premise, the whole system and access to it is in real-time for PLM. We are getting ready to have a major release, which we previewed at our ideation2015 conference in October, to rave reviews. So keep on the lookout.
KL: Are you hearing a lot about mobile these days?
BB: We are hearing about mobile, but I think maybe the fervor around it has slowed down a little bit. We do have several mobile apps that can do things like capture inspiration or access libraries and information for users like designers, technical designers and sourcing team members while they are on the road. They can stay connected in real-time to real data. They can upload and download information. But our entire solution from the get-go has been designed to be accessible from a mobile platform. So if you want to use PLM on your mobile device, it’s just a matter of access to a system. People are still interested in true business applications and not just cute apps.
KL: Are you hearing anything about your customers looking at their customer feedback and looping that back into assortment planning?
BB: We are hearing a lot about people taking information from point of sale and feeding that back into merchandise planning. The really cool thing, I think, is the potential interaction with 3D and how that could change the customer experience, especially on e-commerce. They can take all of the product data and information that’s in PLM and connect it into a digital channel. That could really streamline their time to market and address the digital customer experience.
The other thing around PLM and 3D is the ability to preview a virtual sample and really look at it in three dimensions and edit and annotate that digital sample. Today, you can have a real time conversation about whether something is fitting right or draping correctly, you can see the pressure points of the fabric on the body, all with 3D, with YuniquePLM being the communication platform, providing real collaborative development.
Another area that is really of interest these days is measurements and leveraging our made-to-measure capabilities in our CAD tools. These are connected to our PLM and can feed information back and forth so it’s now connected in with the user experience and that can really streamline that process of more customized clothing for consumers.
KL: I know we are focused on fashion, but as Gerber works with other industries such as home wares, are there any ways that you are leveraging or sharing that experience with the fashion industry?
BB: We do work with furniture and also accessories companies. One of these customers shared how they are leveraging PLM and developing accessories through 3D printing at our ideation conference. So we are really working with our customers to stay on the forefront of what is really innovative and looking at what the future of product development will look like. Fashion isn’t just about design; it’s about production. We look at ourselves as part of the solution to help our customers utilize these new developments and help to deploy them in their environments.
It may be something that is 3-5 years out or it may be 6 months out – that’s part of the value we get out of our conference. In the case of 3D printing of accessories, we saw that people are actually doing this and it works to reduce cycle time and experiment with new ideas. Designer Danit Paleg wowed our audience with her 3D printed garments at ideation2015. The garments were wearable and she really opened people’s eyes to what is possible and what is coming in the future. Other areas in the industry will get there and a lot of exciting things are happening at the intersection of fashion and technology. It’s exciting to know what we can do for our customers at this intersection, both now and in the future.
Check back soon for the final interviews in this series.