In his first exclusive piece for WhichPLM, Chris Hillyer, advocates for the adoption of 3D in fashion. Director of Innovation at DECKERS Brands, Chris contributes to the evolution of product development processes as well as leading other innovation projects; Chris sits on WhichPLM’s Expert panel.
By the end of the ‘80s nearly every major company manufacturing aircrafts and automobiles had begun transitioning towards 3D design. Over the following decade, everything from toothbrushes to office buildings began taking advantage of this revolutionary way of creating.
25 years later, there isn’t a product manufactured without the use of 3D software as an integral part of the design and development process. That is, except for softgoods.
Outsiders to our industry, especially those who are familiar with 3D design, are typically bewildered why such a superior form of creation and visualization hasn’t been adopted. Are we simply laggards, afraid of the responsibility of learning something new? Does the cost of the software and the potentially slow ROI make us put it off for another year, or are we just unsure of how this is going to help us regardless of the hype and pretty pictures?
The story wasn’t all that different in the ‘80s. Industrial Designers and Engineers weren’t required to change the way they were working overnight but the writing was on the wall and, as the software was more refined and more students were graduating with experience in 3D, the world began to change. Regardless of the reason, there are some distinct advantages available to those willing to move to a digital workflow.
One of the biggest benefits to being the last kids on the block in embracing 3D is that so many of the issues we faced in the previous decades have been resolved. Computers with the processing power to run the software are relatively inexpensive, photo-realistic rendering solutions are powerful and also inexpensive, and nearly every student graduating from design school has experience in a variety of 3D software and next-level tools like integration with existing PLM solutions and pre-costing analysis is right around the corner.
The footwear, apparel and bag designers of the future will sketch in 3D, convert their sketch to style lines, apply logos, trim, materials and color to generate not only a Bill of Materials but a photo-real representation of their design (from any angle). All of this can happen while in close connection with brand leadership, project managers and developers prior to launching the project with a factory. Allowing the team to make proposals, solicit feedback from external sources and make modifications, forces product creation groups to resolve issues that normally present themselves during the sample stage. In doing so, when the sample does arrive, the results are predictable and emergencies are reduced.
As we are all familiar, product creation teams are under tremendous pressure to reduce lead times, respond quickly to trends in the marketplace and improve margins. 3D is a tool which helps make more informed decisions. The power of seeing a new design represented as a photo-real image or holding a 3D printed model of concept allows us to become familiar with a design before the materials have been ordered and the sample cycle is kicked off. Additionally, the purpose-built software solutions have come a long way. In the footwear industry, there are few options but we have found Romans CAD by Strategies to be extremely comprehensive as it has capabilities ranging from 3D Sketching to Data Management and offers a complete solution. Although I have less experience with apparel options, the software available from CLO3D, Browzwear and Optitex are quite sophisticated.
A product designed in 3D is represented in accurate proportion and can be reviewed from any angle. Once design lines are established and components are created, materials are applied. It is this process where the software is able to begin creating the Bill of Materials for the project. In addition, since 3D software is capable of converting the 3D component into a 2D shape, material usage can be calculated giving us a general idea of costing. Obviously, the software is not accounting for stitch margins, yields or irregular raw materials like leather, but I believe we all will agree that the exercise of calculating a cost of materials based simply on a design proposal is a powerful opportunity.
After all of the components have been added and materials defined, colors can be applied. It is here that we can begin to merchandize the virtual collection, adding and dropping, tuning and adjusting without any time consequence or expense to the factory. It is also important to consider that with any change to a material or color, the Bill of Materials is also updating in real-time. If necessary, a 3D print can be created in as little as 8 hours helping product teams to understand the scale and proportion of a sample. An additional 3D print can be created by the factory on another continent by simply transferring the file. This allows not only a virtual tech pack to be delivered but a full-scale model to be used as a reference.
By no means is this process eliminating the need for a sample. At some point, every new design must be sampled and evaluated for fit, function and durability. Unfortunately, with the traditional process, we might waste 3-6 months changing the design and re-opening molds before we are even in a place to begin the testing phase. Simply designing in 3D isn’t a guarantee that products will fit and perform to our expectations but it does allow for us to have an accurate model to review and evaluate prior to the sample phase.
Once a design has been approved, the digital asset can take on another life. Animations, exploded views or detail shots can all be easily obtained for marketing or online content. Best of all, when the new season rolls around, new materials and colors are easily applied to your existing model providing realistic images of your proposals to review. Since the products are already existing, the need for physical samples is also reduced and we are finding that the images produced by the software are enough to make decisions from. And to anyone who has been responsible for creating, updating or maintaining a Bill of Materials, keep in mind that this is all being updated automatically.
As I have described a complete solution, I encourage you to start with one small step. There are external resources like WhiteClouds, or Virtuality.Fashion who are able to create 3D models as a service by simply submitting drawings. Begin by creating your most popular style and experiment with variations of color and materials to determine your next collection.