Inside a nondescript brick office park building in the Atlanta suburb of Smyrna, Georgia, machinery is being developed at the Lectra Innovation Center to make custom and small-batch fashion easier and more affordable. Attendees of Techtextil North America and Texprocess Americas—both held together in Atlanta this week—got a peek into how the company’s Fashion on Demand system works, touring the innovation center and seeing the machinery at work.
The Fashion on Demand system runs on a cloud-based digital platform that connects to Lectra’s Virga single-ply fabric cutting machine. Data on products, materials and orders live on the digital platform, along with connectors (to ERP systems, MIS and CRM systems) and other applications.
“We can create a digital library of fabrics with notes about how it should be nested and cut,” said Carlos Jimenez, field service manager, Lectra. “The system is going to tell the machine how it’s supposed to react to get the best cut possible.”
Once all the patterns are entered into the cloud during the preparation phase, users can then input material specifications, identifying specific materials and nesting constraints. After that, adding production rules allows the user to manage the workflow according to the company’s specific needs. This allows manufacturing facilities to be more nimble and able to make changes easily.
“It’s highly flexible and responsive,” Jiminez said. “If your business model changes, you’re able to react.”
That functionality is especially useful in today’s apparel marketplace, where the ability to offer customization can set a business apart from its competition, particularly for independent or smaller fashion brands. With this system, a brand can offer an array of customization options for items such as shirts, allowing the consumer to essentially build their own look by choosing fabrics, collar styles, pocket shapes, cuff cuts and more.
“Automation is allowing independent designers to be more proactive because they have access to more technology,” said Mindy Martell, owner, Clothier Design Source and the Apparel Mentor, during a session at Texprocess on how independent brands are altering the apparel industry.
Automation through systems such as Fashion on Demand allows apparel makers to reduce their environmental impact, too. The digital platform and Virga machine are optimized to reduce fabric waste, and it also incorporates a high-definition vision system and algorithms for quick, automated motif management and cutting. A touchscreen panel allows the operator to select patterns, rules and other specifications as the machine cuts.
“We’re not using paper or plastic, which contributes to operational costs as well as being more sustainable,” said Luis Magana, technical sales director, manufacturing, Lectra.
And while a cloud-based system could potentially present challenges to facilities that have connectivity issues, Lectra outfitted the Virga with a buffering system that manages or stores production orders to mitigate downtime of connectivity. Fashion on Demand also works to minimize disruptions to the production cycle by classifying jobs to reduce delays.
“To maintain efficiency and productivity, the system will organize orders by material type to reduce roll change or interruptions in the system,” Magana said.
Lectra vice president of marketing Ketty Pillet said several apparel brands are currently using the Fashion on Demand system, which she said came about as a result of customer demand and consultations with industry players in Europe and the Americas. The system also has a Furniture on Demand component, which allows makers of upholstered furnishings to employ the same system for their cutting operations.
“We have an R&D team and product marketing team and their job is to listen to customers worldwide,” she said. “They had brainstorming and collaboration sessions with fashion brands, and that’s where it came from—the demands of the customers.”
And as consumers become increasingly more savvy about the way things they buy are made, and demand that brands uphold certain standards of sustainability and circularity, Martell said creating efficiencies in apparel manufacturing that benefit the Earth will allow brands to succeed in an incredibly competitive marketplace.
“I think the clothing industry is going to go the way the food industry has, where everybody has bought something organic or local, and there’s a movement toward that,” she said. “The trend of made local and knowing where it came from is massive.”