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The Forecast is Bright for 2019

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In this piece, the minds behind WhichPLM (CEO & Founder, Mark Harrop, and Editor, Lydia Hanson) share their thoughts for the coming year, and what we might be able to expect from our industry.

With the year drawing to a close next month, we wanted to take this opportunity here at WhichPLM to share with you our hopeful vision for the coming year. Rather than looking back at all we (collectively) have achieved in 2018, we wanted to look forward together.

Whilst we’ll be publishing our customary ‘happy holidays’ post in the weeks to come to thank our valued community for their loyalty, we wanted to first share our predictions for 2019 with you. We’ve selected what we believe to be the most important areas for our industry going forward, and we’ve shared some challenges on how we might be able to make each a reality. Although not all would be considered ‘new’ in their origins, we hope that the below 6 topics will give you some food for thought.

The IIoT uniting software & hardware

In our industry, the race is always on – to design, to develop, to engage – whether it’s creating a new initiative, or making a design, technical, or user improvements to an already existing technology. And now, the race is on to really go upstream into the supply chain. Connecting the supply chain is something we (WhichPLM, in particular) have been harking on about for years – after all, it’s a key benefit of PLM. But, this coming year, we need to shine the floodlight of transparency across the entire chain.

We need to go beyond the ‘traditional’ collaboration brought about by PLM, between brand and manufacturer, and go out to factories, to mills and suppliers of packaging, labels, components, and trims. We have a tremendous opportunity, enabled by the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) to create a live connection between more links in the chain than ever before.

To achieve this, we still need a common hub, and we still believe that will be PLM. Using open standards of connectivity, we should be able to tap into the data coming from all pieces of hardware and software’s typically found within the supply chain and combine this with our existing software platforms. Within the world of open platforms, every piece of hardware (be it a weaving loom, knitting, inspection, spreading & cutting machines, or a CAD system) can have computerised connectivity.

And so we challenge software and hardware providers alike to come together to deliver open standards and share intelligent data – even with traditional competitors – for the good of their clients, and for the future of our industry.

A blend of analytics and A.I.

It’s common knowledge that many retail giants are already taking advantage of Artificial Intelligence to drive trend, design, and development. Soon, traditional forecasting companies are going to be challenged as these larger retailers and brands around the world are able to narrow their offerings much more precisely to match a specific customer. A.I. is allowing them dense insights dynamically, in real-time. We’ve all been browsing on social media when a very specific, yet correctly targeted, ad pops up. Sometimes it feels as though not only our search histories are being targeted, but also our real, daily conversations.

As we know, social media is a huge influence for live trend. And combining traditional analytics with A.I. simply means that brands and their suggestions will become much more accurate at targeting us as individual consumers. Before A.I., by using analytics, retailers and brands could only drive design and development retrospectively, rather than in the ‘here and now’. And even before that, relying on magazine ads, consumers were being told what to wear 6 months to a year out – trend was driving the consumer, rather than the other way around.

And so our challenge to you here is simple: embrace A.I. and design what the consumer really wants to purchase!

Giving more credit to the virtual twin

The concept of virtual twins is nothing new, but the way we view a ‘virtual twin’ might need to be re-investigated. The virtualisation of products is very hot right now, but we often forget about the virtualisation of product elements. Digital twins have been prevalent in the home textiles industry for decades, specifically relating to materials. It’s easy to get caught up in the virtualisation of entire products and overlook the fact that materials make up twins too. With the right software, we can virtually deliver an engineered physical piece, component or product.

And so for 2019 we predict a continuation of the 3D revolution – and want providers and users alike to remember that virtual twins come in many forms (materials, components, products). It’s visualising not just the product, but everything that goes with it. And visualisation is here to stay. Developing virtual prototypes of components and full products can help the environment by reducing fabric wastage and environmental pollution, with the added value of helping your business by cutting costs and greatly reducing the end-to-end cycle time.

Virtual prototyping will, throughout 2019, continue to gain acceptance from the industry. Our challenge is this: in order to do so we must invest in training. There’s little challenge from the software offerings themselves; the challenge comes from training new designers (or rather, designer architects), not long-established in our industry. This lack of education around prototyping and virtual design (which we could spend hours discussing) is where, going forward, we will encounter a gap and potential resistance. These software providers need to make their offerings affordable to educational establishments along with accreditation for training the next generation.

The impact of 5G

We’ll keep this one short and sweet, as Mark wrote an entire blog dedicated to 5G earlier this year. 5G, the successor to 4G, has already made a start in larger cities, and will continue to spread across the suburbs, the countryside and onwards throughout the coming years. However, 5G will be 1,000 times faster than 4G, unlike 4G’s 100 times faster speed than 3G.

In short, 5G brings an awful lot to the table. Steven Mollenkopf, CEO of Qualcomm Incorporated, declared that ‘5G will have an impact similar to the introduction of electricity of the car, affecting entire economies and benefiting entire societies.” There will be pros and cons, as with any new invention, but it seems as though 5G will bring true accessibility, putting the world quite literally in your hand(s).

And for RFA, it will bring a digital revolution, enabling the technology universe to become truly accessible. Everything that’s in the cloud – be it 2D, 3D, PLM, IIoT, Blockchain – will be available like never before. The challenge comes with the infrastructure rollout. Network providers, who now effectively need to put a transmission dishes every 500 meters apart from each other, so the challenge is the speed of the infrastructure rollout. Although the impact of 5G is clear, it’s not as clear as to how long it may take to achieve.

Welcome to the blockchain

Another brief topic we want to touch upon is the blockchain (again, that we have dedicated content on this important subject). A relatively new concept in terms of technology, the blockchain is already helping to deliver transparency both upstream and downstream. Authentication, payments, and trust can all be enabled through blockchain, and we anticipate that vendors and their customers will start large-scale projects in the RFA sector next year.

The blockchain means no signing of a PO, printing of hard copies, increased visibility, traceability and a general reduction in traditional hardcopy documents. All of the non-value added processes go out of the window, as everything becomes electronic. The challenge, as with virtualisation, is around the limited resources available that understand how to set up a blockchain. Third-party experts are often required, and so further education around real-life RFA use cases together with training needs to be scaled up.

The rise of Gen Z shoppers

Finally, one important thing to take into 2019 is the rise of Generation Z in retail, and how we need to approach this generation differently than those that came before. According to Forbes, Generation Z is defined as those born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s, and makeup 25% of the US population. That’s a huge market to tap into.

Born with electronics, Gen Z are savvy when it comes to technology. And, unlike millennials who are traditionally thought of in terms of “me, me, me”, Generation Z is typically more concerned with other people – how to help, how to look after others, and how to create a sustainable world. They aren’t concerned with branding for the sake of branding; they’re concerned with what works for them, personally.

The rise of veganism is also a huge factor, which has (or will have) a massive influence on retail. A recent study carried out by plant-based food brand BOL Foods revealed that “44 percent of Generation Z-ers say being vegan is cooler than smoking.” This is the generation that will be settling into employment and, within the next 5 years, will become breadwinners in charge of purchasing based on their own ethics. It’s very likely that they won’t want mass produced products, due to various environmental factors. This will likely also be a huge drive for environmentally friendly produced clothing, personalisation and near-shore manufacturing.

It’s important that we are smart, and read into what this generation is looking for. So our final challenge is this: adapt. Adapt and cater to the individual. “Sell to Make”, don’t “Plan to Make”.

Lydia Hanson Lydia Hanson has been part of the WhichPLM team for over four 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.