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What Will be the Role of the Creative Designer in Industry 4.0 for Textiles?

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Amber Jae Slooten – The Fabricant

In her second piece for WhichPLM this year, resident digital printing expert Debbie McKeegan explores the changing role of the ‘designer’ in today’s – and tomorrow’s – modern world. Debbie is the CEO of TexIntel – an expert advisory practice serving the Creative, Digital and Print Textile manufacturing Industry.

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs

As the tools of Textile’s Industry 4.0 transformation – AI, AR, VR and IoT – gain traction, it is estimated that over 25% of all work activities will be displaced with automation by 2030.

In this new Industrial Revolution, where algorithm-driven processes and task taught robotics will replace today’s machine operators, it is envisaged that the role of the creative designer will grow to assume new strategic importance.

In Industry 3.0, the designer has already made the transition from paintbrush to pixel, but in Industry 4.0, with sales-driven algorithms, VR simulation, AI-driven workflows and the onset of intelligent robotics the traditional role of the designer will make another great leap forward.

In Fashion, in simplistic terms, the basic role of the designer is to create and set new styles and trends, but that is set to change, and soon, driven by optimisation and automation, as the time to market is accelerated, the designer will have to adjust to new technology, and new responsibilities at warp speed.

The designer will be able to create, not only the patterns and the garments, but also to dress the virtual mannequins that will be used to present the products to the public. As the designer becomes an integral part of the process, moving beyond pure creation onto the manufacturing of the garment and specifications, their vision will be embedded into the DNA of the product electronically.

Products will be conceived in 2D and 3D simulations, generated by machines, as files ready for production, where the designer’s concepts move swiftly from artwork to garments. This, through a process governed by an automated workflow and powered by digital printing, laser cutting and computerised sewbots , will achieve a seamless manufacturing process from design to product at a breath-taking speed.

In this new environment the designer’s role will morph considerably as they embrace Industry 4.0, and as the creative’s mindset evolves and promotes the designer from operator to strategic thinker.

Here the designer will form an essential part of an elite group who will plan, develop and administer the newly automated production process, while the machines and algorithms take the weight of manufacture. This group will have a different mindset than previous generations, for their production paradigm will have to be moderated by sustainability and the conservation of Earth’s resources.

Amber Jae Slooten – The Fabricant

With a sustainable agenda, this new generation will create sustainable products with a view to reduce the use of polyester micro-fibres etc, seeking viable alternatives utilising circular economies, water conservation and power consumption – not to mention eliminating the landfill destiny of many garments from the ‘Fast Fashion’ stable.

So, although the physical advances in software, machinery and robotics will show the way forward to ‘hands off’ production, designers will see everything through the prism of planet Earth, as this new culture evolves.

This will result in a major influence on technological development, as the moral dimension of conservation of the Earth’s resources forces a new direction on the development of automation in Industry 4.0. This influence can be readily viewed at any Fashion trade event, where the virtues of sustainability have become a basic aim for all from designer through manufacturer to retailer.

Industry 4.0 embodies all of these principles, for technological progress without a conscience is seen as vapid and self-serving in a world that must work together.

Amber Jae Slooten – The Fabricant

As a result, all over the design landscape there is an urgency to combine the visual with the technical in a moral dimension.

As Stephen Russell, Professor of Textile Materials and Technology at the University of Leeds School of Design, said: “The vision is to transform the industry’s capacity for new product innovation, and to reduce lead times and waste. This will be done through the convergence of new digital and textile technologies within the fashion design process.”

Universities are collaborating with commercial and technical concerns to radically alter the teaching emphasis in design.

As an example, The £5.4m Future Fashion Factory recently announced by the UKFT, is an industry-led collaborative research project linking the textile design and manufacturing centres within the Leeds city region (here in the UK) with the creative design and retail centre of London.

It brings together expertise from ten core industry partners, with many more forming a wider network spanning design, manufacturing and retail in the UK. The project involves collaboration with the universities of Leeds, Huddersfield and the Royal College of Art as well as the Centre for Textile Excellence in Yorkshire.

The result of schemes like this will be a fundamental change in the teaching emphasis for undergraduate design students, who will now have to master not only the art of form and colour, but also the new skills of Industry 4.0, where knowledge and understanding of the technical processes, workflow and digitisation are vital.

In this academic year alone, there has been a proliferation of technical modules within Textile Design Degree courses. At The University of the Arts in London, this year’s degree module titles tell all:

Product Technology, Creative Product Development & Fashion Production Future Technologies speak for themselves embodying, as they do, in-depth studies into Automated Laser Pattern Cutting, 2D & 3D visualisations and Workflow Integration.

In the coming years, graduates exiting the Academic Design Process will have enhanced skills, directing them at the heart of the manufacturing system, where their ability to visualise product and influence consumer choice will be seen as vital.

In their new roles, their influence will grow, as the business of fashion becomes less and less about the nuts and bolts of a complicated and esoteric workflow, and more about an elegant, efficient and responsible system, delivering beautiful product on time to an appreciative and grateful customer.

Today’s designer will be an integral part of the responsible digital product lifecycle, as computerised tools for development, merchandising and apparel design have shown the profession a new horizon.

In this new world, the designer, using these tools, will be the visionary with the skills to take the marketplace to a new level, embodying the style, creativity and ingenuity that have made their skillset so acclaimed.

Debbie McKeegan Award winning British designer, Debbie McKeegan, began her digital journey almost two decades ago – pre-Photoshop, and pre-digital print. With a manufacturing background, a vast knowledge of traditional textiles (from both a design and production perspective), and an interest in CAD from its onset, today Debbie serves as an expert in the world of digital print. Debbie has developed many new digital production practices, and speaks as an authority on digital design and print worldwide. She is the CEO of TextIntel - an expert advisory practice serving the Creative, Digital and Print Textile manufacturing industry. As a WhichPLM contributor, she is able to pass on her wisdom as a digital pioneer; embracing the creative freedom offered with the advancement of new technology, she looks forward to sharing her knowledge.