Home Featured Texprocess 2016: Tex +Tech = An Industry at a Crossroads

Texprocess 2016: Tex +Tech = An Industry at a Crossroads

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WhichPLM reporter and top contributor, Kilara Le, attended Texprocess Americas 2016, in May in Atlanta, Georgia. Kilara has a background in design and textiles, and a passion for streamlining product development. Having attended her fair share of industry shows and having been an expert in fashion for some time, Kilara has a brimming knowledge of our industry; and as this WhichPLM report will show, she was exceedingly impressed this year. 

Texprocess Americas and Techtextil 2016, in Atlanta, Georgia, was an energetic confluence of the collective pulse of the sewn products and textile industries. And if one word were to sum up my experience this year, that word would be ‘wow’. I have to say that far from being flat lined, many aspects of it are, in fact, racing.  It was encouraging and exciting to see so many materials, machinery suppliers, software vendors, and attendees discussing collaborations and seeking out novel and mutually beneficial partnerships.

> LET’S JUMP RIGHT IN <

So, to set the stage for my whirlwind paced 3 days of the show: I was there for a number of reasons. Firstly, to facilitate an educational session on wearable technologies, with three fascinating speakers, at the request of a new consulting group that I have most recently joined (Will Duncan and Associates). I was also of course covering the event for WhichPLM (as an avid reader, repeat contributor and previous reporter) and, finally, I wanted to gather information for a 3D fit research project that I’m currently working on. Suffice to say I had a full schedule and overlapping agendas. And I have to say that the show greatly exceeded my expectations.

I commenced my journey on Tuesday, May 3rd, by getting stuck right in, and attended a symposium session entitled Automation and Robotics – Present and Future Trends in Product Development, moderated by Yoram Burg of Optitex, whom I caught up with later in the show. With 3D being one of the most impactful technologies the fashion industry has seen to date, we saw a special user panel dedicated to the 3D technology evolution. Under Armour shared their experiences of using Optitex’s 3D technology, and how it supported them in the creation of better products and better fit for their athletes. The last two speakers’ [Henderson & Reddy, mentioned shortly] focus on automation in the sewing factory really piqued my interest, especially with my recent focus on the IoT and the factory of the future. Frank Henderson, of Henderson Sewing machines, showed numerous machines performing multi-step automated operations across a diverse group of industries.  Most of these operations are enabled by robots, optical recognition and advanced material handling capabilities.  One of the main points that Frank made was that by eliminating the labor cost factor, through automation, we can quickly manufacture anywhere in the world.

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The next speaker, K.P. Reddy, a seeker of industries ripe for disruption, and currently the CEO of SoftWear Automation Inc., added to this theme.  Softwear Automation has developed an agnostic and flexible software platform (Python and Ginkopyro for API’s) and vision system to enable manufacturers to manage auto-sewing systems. Their idea is to allow you to customize the software yourself based on what you are making and the machine(s) you are using. Their Lowry system enables movement of materials but is agnostic with regards to end effectors (how you move material around) and sewing machines used. They can connect with an existing hardware or software and their vision system is enabled by the counting thread edges in a fabric, which auto adjusts the feed dogs (a critical component of a drop feed sewing machine for any readers unaware) on the sewing machine in real time with about a 0.5mm precision level. Compare that to a 1/8th inch tolerance for final garment fit, which is tight in the fashion industry (1/8”= 0.125”= 3.175mm), and we have a much easier pathway to mass customization, which, as he mentioned is right on trend with consumer desires.

This is the big difference between fashion designers and engineers – obsession with manufacturing precision versus obsession with visual appearance – so I’m sure there is some common ground to be found here as we move further into automation of sewing. Reddy mentioned that SoftWear Automation is already working with companies such as Gerber and Lectra [indeed, Reddy was present at Gerber’s ideation 2015, reported on by WhichPLM] to pull in cutting data and, in doing so, bridging into another area that has automation, albeit siloed.  He mentioned that ROI on implementation of their software is typically 1-2 years, and solely focused on the sewn product industry. Their software also collects real-time data on machines to look at how things shift during the day because apparently, machines have more productive times during the day just like us …who knew?

Henderson and Reddy both highlighted the increasing functional capabilities of robotics and cameras alongside their continually decreasing costs as enablers of deployment of these technologies.  According to Reddy, “our thesis is that this type of disruption in the industry is not just going to happen through the vendors …The reality is that the customers have to drive innovation and disruption and change in your industry.” So, dear reader, there is your challenge and part of your tool kit to create your own factory of the future…

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> LET’S TAKE IT TO THE FLOOR <

After this session, I headed down to the show floor, and it was buzzing to say the least. Attendance was high and there was activity everywhere I turned. I passed by the Brother sewing machine booth and the optical recognition embroidery machines caught my eye. These machines recognize whatever shape is on the sewing bed and stitch around it and, although this isn’t particularly new technology, they are a good example of a process that is and could be further automated. In this case, American football helmet-shaped patches were being sewn onto fabric.

Next, I wandered over to Henderson’s booth to check out some robots. With articulated arms, the robots on show could pick up material and move it through straight and curved sections just like humans. OK, not exactly like humans, but not far off.  Below is Baxter the robot, complete with charming eyes.

Another really interesting technology I came across was for moving material, from Grabit Inc.. Grabit uses electro adhesion to pick up fabric, move it, and then release it, flat. They can use this to stack and un-stack pieces or pick up pieces from a cutting table without the distortion or wrinkling you would get from picking up fabric with your hands or a hand-like robotic end effector.

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Next, I stopped by the Optitex booth to speak with Yoram Burg, President US and Canada. He shared the increasing interest and adoption of the ‘omni-pattern’ that flows from development through to consumer facing platforms such as e-commerce and virtual fit. Optitex shared the latest digital innovations and advances in the textile and apparel industry and showcased live demos of its latest O/15.5 version including its new 2D and 3D capabilities, photo-realistic rendering, digital collection app and also advanced production software tools such as: automatic nesting, new cut plan features, enhanced seams & pleats, and more.

Next, I spoke with Dwayne Savage of The Fox Company, who showed me the camera recognition feature on their cutter, which, if the edges on a piece are sharp, (or you don’t need extreme precision because you are rapidly prototyping) can digitally image a piece on the cutting table, move and multiply it and cut a copy in minutes from the cutter station software. What sounds even cooler is that, apparently, their cutter heads have multiple tools, like a Swiss army knife: a straight blade, rotary blade and a punch that can switch automatically.  Add to this Savage’s mention of their partnership with a Spanish company called Oteman, who have a carousel spreader capable of holding and auto spreading multiple rolls of fabric and then re-rolling the unfinished portion, and we have some very cool possibilities for quick-turn customized items.

I swung by the Lectra booth to meet with some new additions to their team and ran into some familiar ones as well. Philippe Ribera, Marketing Director of Software, was very positive about their Fashion PLM product and adoption of 3D visualization across the industry in general. Lectra is a very interesting business with a broad portfolio of products – starting with conceptual design, 2D pattern development, it’s recent introduction of 3D, material spreading equipment and the family of Vector N.C. cutting machines. What makes Lectra more interesting these days it that they share a common Fashion PLM platform that enables their customers to take advantage of a common data set and process workflows. With the introduction of greater digital connectivity I would expect, in the coming years, to see development linked to the subject of the IoT coming from Lectra.

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Morgan Tecnica, a company that I was familiar with due to their cutting tables and cut order planning software, now has an in-house developed CAD software with 3D capabilities. The initial offering looks promising, based on the quick demo I saw with Katia Suzuki, and even more interesting is that they claim to be working on (and about to release) a new feature: soft/compressible body 3D avatars. Something I’m itching to explore further after its release.

Finally for day one, I had a quick chat with Paul Magel, President, Business Application and Technology Outsourcing at CGS, who has just released a mobile version of their terminals for their BlueCherry Shop floor control product. By scanning barcodes, or using RFID, throughput of products and operator efficiency can be analyzed in real time. The on-site or cloud-based database and platform enables actionable intelligence, such as faster line balancing, based on KPIs, and enabling supervisors to be out on the floor more, while work in process is auto updated in ERP.

Having encountered such an array of softwares and solutions in just one day, I was looking forward to day two of Texprocess Americas.

> LET’S KEEP GOING <

The next morning I attended the Symposium session, 3D Evolution: Using 3D in the Apparel Fit Process with presentations from brands Under Armour, VF Jeanswear, and Adrianna Papell who are all utilizing different solutions (Optitex, V-stitcher, Tukatech) to speed their prototyping, fitting and sales cycles. I think it is safe to say that the era of 3D virtual fit is upon us. Adam Smythe from Human Solutions presented a rapid prototyping proof of concept they had worked on, their isize portal and upcoming North American sizing survey. One of the things that I was struck with was a comment from Margarita Pasakarnis of VF who said that they had to essentially learn to translate from the language of the avatar – what “she” was saying – via pressure maps and visual drape compared to what a fit model was telling them. This is a great reminder that the language of digital is slightly different. Every one of the speakers highlighted examples of being rapidly able to design and fit product and get other team members and customers on board due to the increasingly realistic rendering capabilities available.

Next, I had the pleasure of walking the show floor with Todd Harple, Director of Innovation and Pathfinding Strategies, Smart Device Innovations / New Devices Group at Intel. An anthropologist by training, Todd now leads a number of interesting initiatives at Intel, one of which is collaboration surrounding wearable technology and soft computing. He was a speaker in the symposium that I moderated, so more about his work later on, however it was interesting to explore an industry (textiles and apparel) that is so familiar to me through fresh eyes focused on an emerging section of the industry. I tried to put on my “Intel eyes” for the next part of the show.

There was a plethora of protective aramid fabrics and shielding textiles, and in the midst was Dr. Daniel Kling, President of Folded Structures Company, LLC., showcasing an interesting array of mathematically folded structures for soundproofing, inflatable structures and the like. As we think about advanced manufacturing, we need to think about structure, smarter product design and also things that can be 3D printed using current textile materials or made into composites.  He, understandably, mistook me for a roofing professional, no doubt based on the sheath dress with reflective metallic threads (most useful while up on a roof) that I was wearing. Dr. Kling, I may be contacting you with some project ideas in the near future…

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As we continued down the floor we ran into Walter M. Wilhelm, who is now VP of Product Integration for The Safariland Group, one of the largest producers of first responder protective gear. It was interesting to hear that they are working on some wearable technology products, but far from being whimsical or fitness oriented, these will actually help to save lives and win hearts and minds.

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There were definitely some demonstrations surrounding integrating conductive elements into flexible substrates, such as this embroidery from ZSK USA, featuring conductive Silver-tech threads from Amann Group, with sewn on LED’s and alligator clips connected to a battery pack. As Todd pointed out, this is all ‘cool’ and fairly simple to do, but in terms of being able to be worn – there is further thought required. Sheima Seiki also had some samples with conductive yarns knitted into them enabling attached LED’s.

It’s always exciting to see a laser removing puffs of indigo dye from a pair of jeans and leaving behind an awesome finish. So I extend thanks to Jeanologia for the innovation inspiration, and the reminder that smart application of technology can replace a small army of people with taped fingers and sandpaper, dust masks and sandblasters who are also hand applying noxious chemicals, all in the name of fashion. This is so much more fabulous!

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Then, it was time for the Symposium, Wearables: Current Application and Future Possibilities. I moderated a fascinating session that began with a presentation by Sundaresan Jayaraman, Kolon Professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech, who set the stage with his vision of an information ecosystem enabled by textiles – the “World of Wearables” that combines software and softwear to provide access to information and new types of interactions through textiles; dubbed “the metawearable.”

Bennett Fisher, General Manager and Director of the Conductive Fabrics business unit at Noble Biomaterials followed with some great insights into the current capabilities and challenges surrounding conductive silver fibers for yarn, fabric and sensors.  He sparked our inner imagineers with thoughts on protecting the signals from conductive fibers from the electromagnetic noise that is everywhere (HVAC systems to mobile phones), to the still limited washability of these fibers, to the variability in resistance required from 10 million Ohms to less than a tenth of an Ohm.

Todd Harple brought the conversation full circle with amazing examples of how a silicon chip manufacturer, Intel, pushes innovation forward by collaborating and demonstrating what is possible with wearables. We learned about interactive coaching systems that use sensors and data to tell an athlete when to slow down or speed up, using sensors that monitor breath, EKG reading and proximity sensors to create an action and a high fashion collaboration with Cromat that created a sports bra that ventilates based on body heat. Their latest evolution in the wearables space is the Curie Module, a button sized device that incorporates a 6 axis sensor with Bluetooth low energy, a coin sized battery, their 32bit SoC, 384kB flash memory and 80kB SRAM.  So perhaps we could be looking at a whole other revolution; in Todd’s words, “the developers of tomorrow could be fashion designers.”

After a long day I headed over to the Seams event to catch up with some people making things in the grand ol’ U.S. of A. Everyone was very upbeat about domestic production from cut and sew operations, such as Industries of the Blind and Homtex, to suppliers and brands as well as SEAM’s Executive Director, Sarah Friedman and Benton and Dave Gardner, President and Managing Director of SPESA.

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> LET’S WRAP THIS UP <

On the final morning of the show, I caught up with yet more people doing yet more interesting things. Eric Henry of TS Designs, an eco-friendly Oeko-tex t-shirt printer and dye house basing the production of their cotton shirts within 750 miles from “dirt to shirt” in Burlington, NC.  I spoke with former colleagues Jonathan Smith and Karen Connolly at Gerber Technology, who were excited about some of their new 3D CAD capabilities and advancements in their PLM offering. Then I said a quick hello to the folks at GSD, whose specialty is labour costing, and spoke to them about their recently being acquired by threads giant, Coats Group plc. I’m excited to hear what comes of this as I can see many opportunities to create efficiencies from 3D design down to PLM in the supply chain and beyond.

At the Human Solutions booth, I caught up briefly with Peter Sun who shared one of their latest PLM developments – opening their PLM interface to mobile apps. Their customers can now create their own apps that connect to their PLM systems via the cloud.

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Before heading out to the airport, I finally made it over to the corner of the room that was the ‘Cool Zone’ (things that are cool working together), featuring a number of things, including an Eton system, which somehow never ceases to fascinate me.

This lead me next door to find out more about latest workstation features and I spoke with Gene Denny-Lybbert of Simparel about their 7” workstation tablets enabled by Shopfloor Support software, of which they are a VAR. The tablets can scan QR codes and feed real-time data into a production management system/ERP. On the tablets, operators can view files, such as PDFs, videos, images that are connected to the item scanned. Of course the data feed includes real-time tracking of WIP and could also have a team login versus individual for Lean or team based manufacturing.

Beside them was TC2 Labs showcasing their mobile 3D scanner and new collaboration for quick pattern creation with Telestia’s software and e-commerce platform.  Steve Brown demonstrated their rotating mobile scanner for me.

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Tukatech had a convincing real life versus 3D comparison image as I passed by- a dress with scale-like armor embellishment.

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Before I knew it, my time was up.

Heading to the airport, I wished the show had been an extra day; there was so much going on and so many people I would have loved to have caught up with in more depth, but unfortunately time is limited at these events. I almost always wish for longer. It just means I’ll have to catch up with people in the coming months or again at the show next year.

After learning more about wearable technology and pondering on the new generation of 3D design, smart materials and technology enabled manufacturing, I am really inspired and excited about what is coming. I see:  faster, flatter (in a Thomas L. Friedman kind of way) and more fashionable.

What are you planning on doing to join in on this Tex-revolution?

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for over six years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like the Annual Review, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.