Between 4th and 7th May, Messe Frankfurt played host to two of the textile industry’s biggest trade fairs: Texprocess and Techtexil. With both shows running in tandem and acres of floor space to cover, WhichPLM chose to dedicate its coverage to TexProcess. This is our Editor’s comprehensive report.
Between the morning of May 4th and the evening of May 7th, more than 42,000 technology fanatics and textile enthusiasts descended upon Messe Frankfurt’s exhibition grounds. Situated in the heart of the city, the enormous site played host to Texprocess and Techtextil – two concurrent trade fairs that the organisers collectively refer to as the “undisputed centre for innovation in the field of high-tech fabrics, smart textiles and processing technologies”.
Operating bi-annually, this month’s simultaneous events were the first since WhichPLM last provided coverage from the Messe Frankfurt show floor in 2013. This year, WhichPLM CEO Mark Harrop and I were on hand to walk the show floors and see just how far technology and innovation had come in the intervening period, and how significant a role textiles – in the broadest definition – play in the modern world.
In answer to the latter question, Brigitte Zypries (Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy) perhaps put it best in her official press statement, saying that, “[these fairs] show that […] textiles are the stuff from which the future is made”.
This is an easy sentiment to understand, but not one at the forefront of the average person’s mind. When we think about it, though, an overwhelming proportion of consumer products, infrastructure, military hardware and public and private transportation rely on textiles, technical textiles and nonwovens.
Also speaking in an official press statement, Eike Eberle (VP of Sioen Coated Fabrics) summed this up by saying that “without textiles and nonwovens, there would be virtually no trains unless passengers wanted to sit on bare metal”. It was this perspective that struck me most strongly upon walking into Hall 4 on the morning of the 4th.,
And although “halls” was the operative word for the joint fair itself – with Texprocess occupying one massive hangar and Techtextil another – each sister show was geared around a different theme, meaning that we chose to focus our attentions on the technology vendors and innovators who populated Hall 4, leaving the hands-on textile manufacture to the experts at Techtextil.
Once inside, it was difficult to know where to begin. Straight ahead loomed the largest booth in the hall, belonging to Human Solutions, and adjacent was the slightly smaller, but certainly just as eye-catching, Gerber Technology booth. Behind these I would later find a further handful of generously sized booths. And to the left and right vast collections of small-to-medium size stands. With this hall primarily dedicated to design, cutting and CAD/CAM the sheer size of many booths was hardly surprising. After all, where else could the enormous plotters, printers and cutters that make up the physical side of the PLM landscape go?
To put in perspective the scope and size of a show like Texprocess, it helps to have points of comparison. Think big; think busy. Think shopping centres with high-vaulted ceilings; think airports without the queues, but with just as many different nationalities. Everyone is suited, everyone is chic, everyone is intelligent, and everyone is busy.
If you’re picturing Wall Street you’ve gone too far. Think less manic, less aggressive – much less aggressive. At a show like Texprocess sales and connections are paramount, so it’s smiles and charm all around. The buzz can be felt from all corners of the room: a gentle hum of excitement, driven by the collective understanding that textiles and textile-related technologies truly matter – not just to the buyers and sellers in the room, but, as Eberle said, to much of the world outside.
Unifying that enthusiasm with an incredibly broad selection of different technologies – 2D, 3D, CAD, CAM, ERP, PLM, cutting, spread, plotting, printing and more – under the roof of Texprocess was the concept of “Industry 4.0”, or “fully automatic, digitalised and decentralised production”.
Not exactly the most approachable buzzword or definition, Industry 4.0 nevertheless ties in with a concept that WhichPLM and forward-thinking technology vendors have been voicing for some time: that the apparel, footwear, accessories and home textiles industries require modern, fully-integrated production processes and technologies in order to keep pace with consumer demand.
No strangers to connecting geographical distant teams or integrating and iterating on disconnected processes, many of the key PLM players in retail, footwear and apparel (RFA) had pitched their figurative tents on the shoe floor. Large booths were occupied by the likes of Assyst and Gerber Technology (including Yunique Solutions), and CGS, TXT, PTC, Koppermann and Walter + Partner had also set out more modest stands.
Other vendors of PLM (some exclusive, others as part of a broader product portfolio) had opted not to exhibit at the show, which certainly gave the impression that although “I.T. at Texprocess” was a major component of the overall event, PLM’s place was primarily to act as the backbone for an ever-growing range of extended technologies.
From integrated sewing machines and cutters, to cloud-based 3D design, fitting and sampling technologies, it was readily apparent this year that technology – particularly software – has rapidly become as vital a component of the textile and apparel supply chain as the fibres and products themselves.
The most potent encapsulation of this development were the robotic sewing machines on display on the show floor, translating the well-established tradition of automated manufacture from the automotive and engineering industries to apparel. And although we don’t expect to see traditional machinists replaced by robots just yet, this was yet another peek at the future.
And this technological bent was evident even outside the confines of the I.T. area, with the organisers citing embroidered electrodes for long-term ECG (electrocardiogram) placements, an algae-based artificial snow, and an artificial womb for premature babies as all being representative of the transformative potential of modern textiles.
Fittingly, then, those PLM vendors with both software and hardware to demonstrate occupied the largest amount of floor space. While pure cutting machine manufacturers like Zun and Pathfinder had imposing machines on show, Gerber Technology showcased its manufacturing hardware alongside a range of software (some fully integrated) that included the newest versions of CAD tool Accumark, and PLM solution YuniquePLM.
This was a strategy mirrored by Yin Technology – one of several international cutting, spreading and plotting hardware manufacturers exhibiting at this year’s show, but one of very few whose range of cutting machines and design technologies were presented as a comprehensive portfolio.
This kind of single-vendor integration has always been persuasive for brands and retailers, but it’s also something that has often gone unremarked by event organisers – and sometimes even by the vendors themselves.
The organisers at Messe Frankfurt, though, clearly recognise the value in closely-coupled solutions – so much so that the entire concept of Industry 4.0 is centred around the potential of such integration to revitalise business models and engage consumers.
Although Lectra – one of the foremost proponents of native, design to manufacture integration – did not exhibit at Texprocess this year, I had the chance to see their Marketing Director, Philippe Ribera, speak at the panel discussion “Making technology work in fashion” alongside Guido Brackelsberg of Setlog GmbH, Simon Fernandes of Alvanon, and Rahul Mehta of The Clothing Manufacturers Association (CMAI) of India.
Dovetailing with the growing traction for the term “internet of things” we’ve seen across software vendors this year, Ribera spoke about connected cutters, smart services, and the ability for intelligent, integrated software and hardware to lay the groundwork for lean manufacture and preventative maintenance.
Ribera also echoed a mantra WhichPLM has long subscribed to: that return on investment, while an important criterion, cannot dictate the pace of scope of technology projects. Instead, any new technology – from PLM to 3D printing – should be managed as a whole-business change initiative if it’s to deliver savings, see adoption by the intended end users, and generate new opportunities for the retailer or brand in question.
Chief amongst those new opportunities, as Ribera sees it, are made-to-measure clothing and personalisation – two things that require strong technological foundations and partnerships in order to achieve, and that were reflected in the wealth of technologies on show at Texprocess that empower brands and retailers with the rapidly to rapidly prototype, iterate, sample and engage.
The most prominent of these was undeniably three-dimensional working. From design to marketing, the signage and exhibitor listings revealed an intention to showcase the best that 3D has to offer to footwear, apparel, accessories and other related industries.
WhichPLM will be tackling the subject of 3D working for retail footwear and apparel in detail later this year (in our newest print publication) but even with some of that research already under our belts, we came away from Frankfurt impressed by just how far 3D has permeated the product lifecycle.
While direct printing of apparel is still beyond current print methods, we have already seen how individual components – even those with moving parts – can be 3D printed, in addition to the advances that have taken place in printing footwear, eyewear and even watches, albeit non-functioning ones.
Without a doubt, 3D technology represents one of the most potent opportunities for unifying design, production and the processes and materials that link them. As a result, the applications of 3D working on show at Texprocess were as diverse as any product lifecycle.
Two names already synonymous with office and industrial printing, Epson and Brother, were demonstrating different fabric and textile printing methods, with Epson in particular showcasing a type of digital dye sublimation that would lend itself extremely well to the short runs and rapid turnaround required by a 3D design and prototyping workflow.
On the design side, in addition to the solutions on display from mainstays like Gerber Technology was the clean, crisp show floor experience put together by the team at Human Solutions.
The company’s 3D design solution, Vidya, was on display, adjacent to a 3D body scanner that allowed visitors to enter a pod, scan their essential measurements, and see the results reflected in a 3D fit model shown on a large screen.
Accurate body metrics and grading are an essential component of good fit – and one that, in Human Solutions’ case and several others’ is supported by constantly-improving simulations of fabric, with accurate weight, drape and light reflection and / or absorption characteristics.
Fit, of course, also has an element of subjectivity, and even the most accurate body scan cohort studies will always be subject to the whims of what a customer feels “looks good” on him or her.
Being able to visualise garments is a key component of this consumer journey, and one that Human Solutions sought to update with a full-scale touch sensitive wall. Embodying the potential for brands and retailers to collect consumer feedback on both existing and potential future collections, this interactive exhibit allowed delegates to explore and layer virtual garments, getting as close as possible to a real feel for the fit, feel and form without having a physical product on-hand.
Equally committed to demonstrating technology’s potential to supplement physical fit, sampling and consumer engagement was Optitex – one of the industry’s longest-serving proponents of 3D working.
In a press conference, the company revealed its complete product offering – solutions for design, product development and marketing – showcasing realistic rendering and simulation of apparel and accessories. The most recent versions of these solutions have brought increased fidelity to these simulations, including folded collars on garments, stitch and make-up details, traims and components, fabric scaling, and the addition of a broad range of digital avatars designed to help design, development and marketing teams reduce the time and cost involved in sampling and product photography.
Optitex have also incorporated workflow improvements and commensurate enhancements to the overall user experience into the latest iterations of their solutions, as well as opening their SDK to facilitate partnerships with PLM vendors.
Optitex, judging from the demonstrations we saw, have also paid particular attention to the interrelationships between 2D and 3D design. In many current 3D workflows, translating two-dimensional sketches into 3D renders is both time and cost-intensive, but Optitex are taking steps to try and redress this balance, and ease the transition from traditional ways of working.
This focus on extended PLM solutions, though, didn’t come entirely at the expense of traditional PLM. Although the vendors present were certainly emphasising the integration and broader enterprise potential of PLM, we had the time to interview representatives of Koppermann, PTC, Human Solutions, TXT, Centric Software and other vendors about everything from 3D to PLM integration, to corporate social responsibility.
The Koppermann team in particular were keen to lend their opinions on the evolution of technology for fashion in their home country, having developed from being a fashion-focused CAD vendor to one of Germany’s leading (and most enduring) sellers of PLM.
We also had the opportunity to meet with Lex McVicker, Director of Threads, Trims and Global Marketing with Coats. (Coats announced its acquisition of General Sewing Data (GSD) while we were at Texprocess.) McVicker spoke to us at length about his company’s ability help brands and retailers better engineer their processes, and improve quality and innovation through the introduction of smart components like reflective threads, tapes, and other trimmings.
Collectively, these exhibitors reported that although foot traffic to the show as a whole was down on previous years – at least in Hall 4 – they felt that the audience as a whole was better educated on the role of technology within fashion.
This was certainly reflected in these vendors’ booths and materials, with most vendors shedding their previous images to embrace a design-led aesthetic in recognition of their role at the very heart of the future of fashion.
Unlike 3D solutions, interactive walls, body scanners and other products where the value is obvious and visible, PLM (and certainly ERP and other enterprise systems) has never been particularly suited to trade fair demonstrations.
Much of the power of PLM, after all, exists behind the scenes, with the right solution and the right customer / vendor partnership serving up accurate data and enabling collaboration – all of which underpins the more readily apparent attraction of solutions like 3D CAD.
Where trade fairs like Texprocess do have relevance, though, is in providing a platform for prospective customers to see the more tangible elements of a vendor’s portfolio – particularly those that include software and hardware – and to meet the professionals behind them.
Although we have previously aired concerns that some vendors have a limited pool of fashion veterans upon which to draw, shows like Texprocess serve as a timely reminder that, whether they produce 3D scanning pods or full enterprise solutions, vendors of fashion technology are typically extremely committed to the future of the industry.
And the passion and experience of these key professionals shines through, year after year – impressing and inspiring as much as the solutions they present.
Keep watching WhichPLM throughout May and June for detailed interviews with technology vendors conducted during Texprocess.