As companies chase speed to market, it has become more important to get products right the first time.
From design development to chemical compliance, cutting down redundancies can save both time and costs. During virtual sessions at the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America’s Global Shoe Sourcing Series, executives from software company Romans CAD and testing firm Tüv Süd laid out how these processes can be streamlined.
COVID-19 offers the opportunity for companies to become more productive through digital transformation. Since the pandemic, Jean-Marc Pedeboy, partner at Romans CAD, has seen a number of new brand inquiries.
“In the last two, three weeks we have seen a lot of requests from luxury brands in France and other brands also to get things working definitively, which means there is a push from higher management,” Pedeboy said.
Romans CAD clients typically see their product development time shrink by 60 percent compared to the process without its software.
Along with speeding the timeline, Romans CAD acts as a centralized data hub, enabling companies to keep track of models and patterns. In addition to housing this information, the system allows companies to act on data more effectively.
According to Pedeboy, the footwear business can take a page out of the automotive playbook and make development more industrialized, with more collaboration between the supplier and the brand. As an example of a breakdown in between the two parties, even if brands turn their 3D models into 2D patterns to be fed into a factory’s cutting machine, the manufacturer will often redo the translation of the pattern.
As another case for better collaboration, one of the reasons that Pedeboy has seen projects fail is having partners on separate platforms, making technological communication more of a challenge.
During COVID, the physical distance between suppliers and brands was bridged by an uptick in digital interactions. The same goes for the meetings between vendors and retailers. Romans CAD has launched a solution called Showcase that allows brands to publish their 3D models to use as a substitute for samples and swatches.
Another aspect of getting product right the first time is designing based on real feet. Foot scans can be turned into digital lasts, which can then be used as the basis for virtual design. This raises the likelihood that shoes will fit the end consumer properly, thereby reducing returns.
“Everything is linked, from the last to the pattern to the consumption,” Pedeboy said.
At the same time that companies are looking to cut back on their development times, they are also facing rising regulations around chemicals.
“Speed to the market is today’s demand,” said Sandeep Khatua, global technical director at Tüv Süd. “So time is essence. The product needs to be first time right, and at the same time, needs to be cost effective, and high quality, safe and compliant. So being proactive and having a smarter testing approach are the keys in my mind.”
Khatua said having a Restricted Substances List based on a company’s products can help to cut redundant testing.
One cost efficiency driver is to push chemical testing budgets towards products that are riskier. Khatua also suggested companies focus more of their efforts on component testing upstream. Coupled with a tracking system, this can eliminate the need for testing at the finished product level.
As U.S. companies seek out a European audience, they have to navigate guidelines from the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). ECHA’s REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals Regulation) requires firms to register substances for risk assessment. From there, chemicals deemed substances of very high concern (SVHC) are then noted for potential restriction.
While restricted chemicals are prohibited, products containing SVHCs can still be sold.
The responsibility for REACH compliance rests with companies that manufacture in the European Union and importers to the region.
If a brand or retailer is not REACH compliant yet, one thing they can do is boost awareness at the supplier level so that factories can incorporate it into their quality systems.
“Broad based testing to all SVHC under the candidate list is not particularly common for clients to conduct,” Khatua said. “But I think that will be good to kind of monitor these chemicals to be proactive, or at least request compliance to be demonstrated by a supplier declaration.”