Is It Time For a 3D “Gut Check”?
3D technology is growing among apparel retailers and brands. However, many brands and retailers are relying on 3D alone to meet consumer demands which is leaving them frustrated. The real value is an end-to-end solution, not a feature, that will facilitate On-Demand Manufacturing or what some are calling the "Microfactory”.
So, when did this idea that we need more than 3D in our manufacturing ecosystems to compete in this modern retail environment come to exist? Well, the idea of On-Demand Manufacturing is not new. What is new, is better and more accessible digital fabric printing machines and technology solutions that can connect the workflow from design to the cutting room floor.
The 3D message has been a loud one for the past several years. 3D solution providers have been banging their "3D drums" and the industry has followed. Some companies are already several years into 3D adoption in their workflows. For some, it has been much more recent. As a former manufacturer myself, I always ask, "Can we point to hard numbers on ROI from the 3D implementation?” I can certainly point to ROI from better costing, more efficient nesting and cutting, and building a connected supply chain.
Theoretically, being able to visualize a sample and communicate changes in 3D should save physical samples and lead to better, faster, and more accurate decisions. This makes perfect, logical sense. However, for many, this acceleration of the development process has not been realized. In some cases, 3D implementation has actually slowed their process down. Why would that happen? There are several reasons in my opinion:
1) 3D was viewed as some type of "Holy Grail" that would solve every problem. It would be the 3D implementation that would make us more profitable, better at design and development, and speed up our time to market. We forgot that 3D is a modern piece of a more complex workflow, much in the same way digital pattern making was 30 plus years ago. The retail market is extremely competitive and buying habits have changed. Companies will be challenged to maintain profit. Profitability will rely on better product control, cutting efficiency, fabric efficiency, technology (Customer Data meets AI), and yes, 3D solutions as a PART of the workflow not THE WORKFLOW.
2) The 3D solution adopted was too hard to learn. Many equate 3D solutions with an advanced version of Adobe Illustrator. In most cases, the user would need to have a background in technical design or even pattern making to effectively use most 3D solutions.
3) The "Who" question. Relating back to the difficulty to learn, for many companies the "who" within their organizations is the question. Is it the pattern maker? Well, the pattern maker does not really have the design skills. Is it the Designer? Well, the designer does not know (or want to deal with) patterns. It is actually a hybrid and a job title that does not currently exist. So, for management the question is do we re-purpose someone who already works here or do we take on new hires.
4) A 3D solution that was adopted was lacking connectivity to patterns so, although we could get a quick look in the design process, when we were happy with the image, it was back to Square One and then getting a pattern made. Whether a company directly manufactures or uses global suppliers, a pattern is needed to manufacture your order. To go a step further, brands are built and maintained because of loyal customers who trust the brand's fit, quality, and consistency. This starts with great patterns, not the 3D image.
Many 3D adopters should have a "gut check" on the most basic of questions. Has the implementation of 3D in my organization saved sample time and money? Allowed a faster time to market? Contributed to a healthier bottom line? If the answer is yes, then value was perceived and realized. If the answer is no, then we must ask: does the lack of success lie in not dedicating the time and right personnel to 3D projects or did we simply choose the wrong solution for our particular workflow?
This article was written by Enrico Zamarra, Manager New Business Development at Gerber Technology.