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Strategies’ Innovation Summit: the WhichPLM Report

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Mark Harrop, WhichPLM’s Founder & CEO, has recently returned from Paris after attending Strategies’ Innovation Summit 2016. Stratégies is a global leader in the development of 2D and 3D CAD/PDM/PLM and Virtual Reality software solutions for the footwear, leather goods,  furniture manufacturing and accessories industries. The Summit marked the company’s thirtieth anniversary, and brought together customers from across the globe. Mark Harrop reports. 

Strategies’ Innovation Summit took place in Paris, 11th May, at the Pavillon Wagram. The event, designed to break new ground in the world of three-dimensional working for footwear, brought together more than 180 customers of varying sizes from across the globe including Nike, Wolverine, New Balance, Adidas, Louis Vuitton, Hérmes, Chloé, Chanel, Maruska, Flexi, and Clarks.

And as official media sponsors of the event, I was invited along.

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The event was opened by Jean-Pierre Pedeboy, CEO of Strategies. Jean-Pierre made the point that this was the first event of it’s kind and that he and the team were pleasantly surprised by the turnout, and looked forward to making the summit an annual event.

Stratégies is a global leader in the development of 2D and 3D CAD/PDM/PLM and Virtual Reality software solutions for the footwear, leather goods,  furniture manufacturing and accessories industries. The company was founded in 1988, when a group of inspired engineers realised that the use of 2 & 3D software to create and develop 2 & 3D models could become an invaluable tool to streamline footwear, luggage, accessories and furniture manufacturing. Developed in conjunction with luxury shoe manufacturers, the Romans CAD project (something I expect all readers will be familiar with) was born, and the company became a leader in the world of footwear CAD.

To date, the company provides software for over 1,600 businesses all around the globe – from small boutiques to huge enterprises including many world renowned brands – in the footwear, leather, accessories and furniture industries, some of which have 2 & 3D CAD teams numbering several hundred employees.

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It will come as no surprise, then, that the Innovation Summit focused on all things 3D: 3D design, 3D printing, 3D models, and several ‘futures’ including elements of the IoT (Internet of Things) and virtual reality. And, it provided a platform for Strategies to introduce RCS (Romans CAD Software) version 10, including a new UI/UX user interface and experience.  RCS version 10 is available under Windows 10; it boasts a new “flat” graphical interface (Windows, menus icons) and improved memory consumption. More than 50 corrections have been made to Romans CAD 2D, and over 180 new functions for Romans CAD Data Management. There is also new API web services available for the interface to ERP and PLM.

But, back to the event.

For a one-day only event, I have to say that there was a great deal to soak up. Attendees could get to know the latest roadmap of the RCS version 10 during the event, familiarize themselves with this latest software release (coming in July 2016), 3D printing, and gain new insights into the latest industry developments and exciting innovations coming their way. The opportunity was there to learn how other professionals create new solutions, gain ideas and creative ways to support their business model for the future.

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Electronically fuelled, socially networked millenials

The Summit hosted select industry speakers – each an expert in his or her own field.

The first speaker of the day was Jayne Esteve Cure, of Jayne Fashion Agency, with an interesting presentation entitled “The New Fashion Millenials Consumers!” Her pitch focused on – you guessed it – today’s ‘millenials’ and generation X & Y, who today have a combined spending power of $2.5 billion and who have new expectations when it comes to purchasing fashion.

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Jayne began by categorizing the millennial as the digital generation born between the 1990s and early 2000s. Another definition is the 15-25 year olds that are still dependent upon the ‘bank of Mum and Dad’. And with an 18-year-old still living at home, I can certainly confirm this.

Millennials grew up in an electronic-filled, online, socially networked world, which continues to advance at a relentless pace. Jayne explained that these are the generation that has received the most marketing attention and are very savvy when it comes to finding the best products at the best price; they expect products to be delivered quickly and are always after the latest brands, gadgets and ’it’ items.

As the most ethnically diverse generation, millennials tend to be tolerant of difference and are very concerned with protecting the environment and supporting corporate sustainability. Having been raised under the mantra “follow your dreams” and being told they were special, they tend to be confident. While largely a positive trait, the millennial generations’ confidence has been argued to spill over into the realms of arrogance, entitlement and narcissism.  And the rise of the ‘selfie’ would definitely support this.

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“Last should always come first”

Next up was Bill Tippit, Master Last Maker & shoe fitting expert for Nike. Another interesting speaker, his presentation was titled, “The Digital Last”.

Having been in the industry since the mid-1970s, Bill has around 40 years of experience developing shoe lasts for some of the top footwear businesses in the USA. An expert in shoe fit, Bill’s goal is to help the industry achieve consistency and accuracy in the fit of footwear across the entire supply-chain. Bill has helped develop several leading technology systems used within the footwear industry today, including Jones & Vining’s Compu-Last®, corpus.e’s lightbeam® solution and, of course, Strategies’ Romans CAD™ software.

Bill opened his presentation by making the witty point that the ‘Last should always come first.’ Bill gave several examples of the huge efforts that continuously go into building zero tolerance accuracy in last designs and that pay great dividends further down the supply-chain; by starting with perfection you stand a much better chance of ensuring correct fitting shoes.

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He also gave several examples of how suppliers to Nike have, in the past, challenged the need to use new technologies and have pushed back against the need for ‘change’ and the introduction of new solutions and processes – the likes of RCS. He went on to say that the Nike team has worked extremely hard to help educate supply chain partners on new methodologies supported by advanced RCS solutions – solutions that now allow those involved to better manage the many hundreds of new style developments using shared PDM style data. This data allows better management of the technical details of each of the styles and associated manufacturing methods, including grading (from a size 3.5 to a size 22) quickly, accurately and consistently no matter what part of the world you’re in.

All parties today are working toward a ‘single version of the facts’, which will help to manage the complexity of fit and design. During the last design process the Nike team automatically flattens all 3D last, after the initial design approval; the flattening process takes a matter of seconds compared to the couple of hours when done manually and it’s tangible benefits (like this) have encouraged supply-chain partners to use the same software around the world.

One of the key points made by Bill was that “old school education” (handmade last design) must always come first before new last design engineers should start to use 3D. I have to agree with this statement, and regardless of product type. Whether it’s footwear or fashion apparel, unless we teach new designers and engineers the old ways of working then we stand to lose the artisan skills that are required to maintain great design.

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A veteran of the industry

The third speaker, Chris Loveder, is a Senior Designer for Wolverine Worldwide – a role that he has held for almost three decades. He is a fifth generation shoemaker, with extensive knowledge into the manufacturing process, gained through 35 years in the industry. Chris has worked on all aspects of design, from childrenswear and women’s fashion, to sporting footwear and motorcycle boots.

Although Chris counts himself as a veteran of the industry, he’s certainly not lost his appetite for newness and excitement; his team is using the Romans CAD software to support Wolverine’s virtual store of the future.

Chris, supported by Rob Murphy, Senior 3D Developer at Wolverine, presented a live demonstration of what is to come for Wolverine’s customers using virtual goggles to browse a virtual store, trying on virtual products and gaining that special digital experience, all the way to making the final purchase. In the future Chris and his team expect that the solution will be expanded to use a mix of virtual reality products that can be overlaid with augmented reality files. These could be design specifications, ‘how to’ guides, internal material design details, alternative extra colour-way options, or even videos to show products in use and to give that perfect customer experience.  It was certainly exciting for the audience to gain a glimpse of what’s to come in the near future!

There are many different types of virtual reality systems but they all share the same characteristics such as the ability to allow the person to view three-dimensional images. The images of footwear in the demonstration appeared life-sized to the person wearing the goggles.

The store and products changed as the person moved around their environment, which corresponds with the change in their field of vision. The demonstration used a seamless join between the person’s head and eye movements and the appropriate response, e.g. change in perception. This ensured that the virtual environment was both realistic and an enjoyable experience for Wolverine’s customers.

Chris Loveder & Rob

Chris and Rob made the point that the virtual store should provide the appropriate responses in real time as the participant explores the products on offer within the surroundings. They made the point that the aim is for a natural, free-flowing form of interaction, which will result in a memorable experience for Wolverine’s customers. They are looking at expanding VR (Virtual Reality) together with AR (Augmented Reality), exploring the use of Microsoft Hololens, using a blend of mixed reality with 3D holographic content from RCS and bringing both into the physical world. This will give VR & AR holograms real-world context and scale, allowing you to interact with both digital content and the world around you. I am very much looking forward to tracking their exciting progress over the coming months!

Protection, encryption & watermarking

The next speaker was William Puech, Lecturer at Montpellier University, and Project Director at ICAR.  Puech lectures on image processing, specialist visual data (images, video, 3D) encryption, security and watermarking.

William delivered an interesting pitch on digital security, entitled ‘Protection and Watermark of 3D Models’. I’m sure that many of the visiting brands and retailers will have taken note of the exciting work that the Montpellier team, who’ve been working with Strategies Romans CAD for the past twelve years, are doing. The results of which will help to protect Intellectual Property of designs – not only for the RCS 3D models but also in other related fashion designs that are today produced in 2 & 3D files.

William made the point that around 80% of data is graphical and in many instances it needs to be protected against being copied by unscrupulous organizations that copy designs and sell counterfeit goods around the globe.

I’m sure that William wouldn’t mind me saying that his presentation was very technical in terms of the scientific approach that goes into helping to protect graphical files and deserves much more than I can share in this short report, so I would strongly recommend that readers who are interested should read some of William’s work.

In William’s demonstration he asked a member of the audience to have his picture taken – the audience member being Rob Murphy, who supported Chris Loveder’s pitch. The image of Rob’s face was 217 X 217 pixels in size, resulting in a 1 mega-byte image, approximately. Then, using a software program, Williams took the image and embedded it into a mesh, which was overlaid over a running shoe, using around 50,000 dots containing data from the image file. This file, William explained, could then be shared with third parties and for all intents and purposes it looked just like the original shoe – but when using the security key it shows the hidden image of Rob’s face.

As everything becomes digital, the I.P. of design will become more and more important, especially to luxury brands that lose billions of dollars per year in counterfits.

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According to the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM) counterfeits cost European brands the value of 9.7% of their total sales every year – or a staggering €26.3 billion ($28.7 billion). Those lost sales ripple outward, resulting in approximately 363,000 lost jobs across the manufacturing, retail, and wholesale sectors of Europe’s fashion industries.

Digital security is a critical concern of Strategies and their customers, and as per Jean-Pierre’s words, they will continue to work together with Montpellier University to further advance their joint research and developments.

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The evening’s events

The day ended with a boat trip down the Seine river, in which customers could network with one another and enjoy themselves, and dinner at ‘Maison Blanche.’ Strategies was humbled to celebrate their 30th year with their clients.

Overall, it was a very interesting event, with a great deal of international support, and an excellent turnout. I was amazed how much could be presented in only one day. I look forward to attending the next Strategies event.

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Mark Harrop Mark Harrop is the founder and Managing Director of WhichPLM. During a career that has spanned more than four decades, Mark has worked tirelessly to further the cause of PLM – providing the unbiased, expert advice that has enabled some of the world’s best known retailers, brands and manufacturers achieve efficiency savings across their entire supply chain through informed technology investments.