There is no denying the seriousness of the state of the world today. COVID-19 decimated the standard supply chain for many apparel companies. As we forge ahead into whatever the new normal will look like, there is no time better than now for brands, retailers and manufacturers to recalibrate the way they collaborate, manufacture, and drive PROFIT through increased efficiency.
While the initial reaction from many was, “we need to move out of China” that did not happen, nor will it happen. It takes years to develop relationships with reliable suppliers in any country, therefore the concept of just picking up and moving, is not realistic. For companies to truly recover from the pandemic, they need to digitally transform.
The need to digitally transform.
In recent years, many companies have been addressing efficiency, time to market, digitalization, and collaboration by implementing a variety of technologies. During the pandemic, we saw that companies who had already leveraged the latest technology ended up having a better time adjusting to new ways of working, collaborating and developing products. For example, those who had already implemented a PLM system learned to use it in even more critical ways. For those that delayed implementing PLM, the pandemic pushed them to adopt.
Additionally, 3D technology has also been more widely adopted by apparel companies within recent years. 3D is now being used to speed up the design process, validate fit and pattern accuracy, and for virtual catalogs. Many fashion companies have also had their suppliers adopt 3D to replace the need for physical samples in the development process, decreasing sample time and cost while speeding up the approval process.
Creating a 2-sided supply chain.
While fashion companies have been addressing the supply chain in-house, many still have to work to include their supplier base. While many have begun to include their suppliers by asking them to use 3D for virtual sampling and allowing them to access their PLM solutions for better collaboration and visibility, this is not enough to create a truly efficient 2-sided supply chain.
Let’s take a look at some key areas that can be reworked to increase efficiency:
1. Uniform data communication between apparel companies and their suppliers.
There are two common issues with communication we see with brands and suppliers. The first is where the brand and supplier use the same CAD system, but the factory is on a much older version. In the second scenario, the brand has one CAD system and the factory has another, which means file conversions to .dxf or AAMA are a must.
In both of these scenarios, a good deal of file clean up will be needed before production. Neither of these solutions are effective or efficient which is why a uniform, seamless data flow will always be faster and more reliable than a fragmented one.
2. Suppliers should be using 3D beyond just virtual samples.
Factories should be encouraged to use 3D regardless of mandates by U.S. brands. 3D needs to be considered as a new tool in the development workflow, rather than a “cure all” for every production problem. At the factory level, they should be using it as a tool for their pattern makers to validate fit in the development process, scale artwork, and even match things like plaids, not just virtual sampling. The success of the world’s biggest brands has centered around great fit and consistency. That starts with accurate patterns.
3. A combination of technology and automation is needed at the factory level.
On the U.S. side, a variety of technologies from PLM to 3D are being used at very high levels. However, a good amount of the factory base, globally, is way behind in both technology and automation. In many countries, fabric cost is the biggest expense in the price of the garment. Yet, factories are not adopting technology to help with things like fabric roll management or advanced nesting for better fabric usage. With half of the supply chain relying on high tech and the manufacturing side still using manual methods, there’s a lack of efficiency.
Revamping the supply chain for efficiency.
If both sides of the supply chain implement the proper technology and automation solutions, it will lead to better collaboration, a more seamless and efficient workflow, and better margins.
Brands and retailers should be engaging the correct technology and automation partner who can assess and implement the changes that are needed on both sides of the supply chain. One who has experience in both automation and technology solutions, has a dedicated team of consultants, and a global presence to support both sides of the supply chain. Most importantly, the partner you choose must be forward thinking and innovative. You chose your solution to help with the challenges of today, but you choose a partner that will continue to innovate and develop the tools that will continue to make you more efficient and profitable.