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Could Predictive Capabilities Be the Next Frontier for 3-D Design Software?

Designing apparel in three dimensions has its proponents and detractors, but brands on board with the technology issued a stark warning to laggards: get on board soon—or risk getting left behind. Even as the design tech continues to gain momentum throughout the industry, some of the more forward thinkers are already envisioning what could lie ahead for 3-D design software, expressing a strong interest in predictive capabilities that could further accelerate ideation and streamline product development.

Perhaps it’s a fear over relinquishing control or simply a distrust of technology itself, but Deckers Brands’ director of innovation Chris Hillyer said at the PI Apparel conference in New York City that some designers hem and haw over three-dimensional renderings instead of recognizing when a simulation is good enough or close enough to the real thing. Sometimes—but not always—you don’t need to know (or see) all of the minute details in order to move forward with production of physical samples, he noted. If one of the selling points of 3-D design is how much faster you can speed through ideation, why get hung up on—and bogged down by—inconsequential minutiae?

“Perfection is a dangerous thing in a world of 3-D,” Hillyer said. “This is where we can get in our own way.”

Of course, some brands want to maximize their 3-D investments and leverage those assets across the enterprise, especially on e-commerce, Scout McDaniel, adidas’ 3-D senior designer, pointed out.

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As brands continue to integrate 3-D into their own processes, they’re compelling their supplier partners to adopt these tech platforms along with them. Hillyer said some of Decker’s vendors, including a footwear factory, have been so enthusiastic about the efficiency that 3-D design files enable, that they want to educate even more of their workers on this new technology and business process.

For manufacturers that need a bit more convincing, sometimes you just need to explain that 3-D design can be about “playing the long game,” McDaniel noted. It’s natural to want to see a financial impact right away from any new technology investment, but the savings realized through reduced fabric wastage and fewer physical samples produced just to be tossed in the rubbish will snowball over time, she said.

Hillyer believes 3-D design and modeling will eventually come with predictive capabilities that will eliminate some of the current processes. Perhaps technical designers won’t need to test every single fabric option for drape, stretch and more, and instead, a library can store this data for quick reference, grouping together the textiles with similar behavioral properties.

The Deckers exec called for standardization, or perhaps automation, around data points so that if you tell the software which fabric and which manufacturing machinery will be used, it could automatically calculate the drape, removing yet another moment of tedium from technical design.