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TexProcess 2013 – The WhichPLM Report

TexProcess 2013 – The WhichPLM Report

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Between 10th and 13th June, the Messe Frankfurt played host to two of the textile industry’s biggest trade fairs, TexProcess and TechTexil, running concurrently, spread over vast square-footage, and showing many of the latest developments in technology and mechanical innovation.  In this – the first in an exclusive series of articles – our Editor examines the essentials from both shows.

A lot goes into the development of a garment.  Four gargantuan, multi-tiered halls’ worth, as it turns out.

Last week, as summer started to hold sway over much of Europe, Frankfurt became the sweltering haunting ground – for the second time – of the ghost of IMB.  Once the textile industry’s biggest and brightest exhibition, attracting tens of thousands of visitors from around Europe to its home in Cologne, IMB underwent a series of face-saving facelifts leading up to its eventual cancelation in 2012.

Its spirit didn’t wander far, though; it drifted two-hundred-or-so kilometres, crossed the Main river, and came to roost in the rafters of Messe Frankfurt.  There, from 10th to 13th June, it occupied a staggering amount of floorspace across those four separate halls, manifesting itself as TexProcess and TechTextil – dual shows with a shared purpose.

TexProcess is vaunted as “the leading international trade fair for processing textiles and flexible materials”, while its sister show. TechTextil, is an “international trade fair for technical textiles and non-wovens”.  In practice, TexProcess had a focus on form – cutters, computer aided design, colour matching – while TechTextil looked at function, with composites, performance materials and agrotextiles ruling the roost.

While there was undoubtedly a great deal of crossover between the two shows – evidenced by the number of delegates who came staggering into the sunlight-pierced corridors and walkways between the halls – my primary interest lay with TexProcess, home to core and extended PLM and ERP vendors.  And although WhichPLM tries to be an all-encompassing publication, there are times when a little more focus is needed to bring the right insight to our readers.

This is one of those times.

A lot goes into the development of a garment, then.  Materials, threads, trims; forms, files; drawstrings, data.  More than each of us sometimes realises, and more, certainly, than we appreciate until we find it laid out before us in halls like these.  If writing about a show like TexProcess is hard, then navigating one is a feat worthy of Marco Polo: sewing machines rattle, points of sale ring off, product data reels from pillar to post, and everywhere a voice clamours that what they do makes fashion possible – what they have is what you’re missing.

Crucially, though, one refrain always emerges from the chorus at events like these; one melody that rises, unwavering, as you bend your ear to the industry’s pulse.

Whether it’s CAD, CAM, PLM, POS, SCM, 3D ERP or any other choice from a roster of buzzy acronyms, technology has made its impact felt at every level of the product lifecycle.  Nowhere is that impact more apparent than at a show like TexProcess.

Luckily, technology happens to be our focus – specifically those technologies that fall under the umbrella of extended product lifecycle management.  And so it was that I set out to explore the tightly-regimented aisles of TexProcess 2013, with an eye for the new and the exciting, and an ear for our common tune.

Concentrated in two halls – 4 and 5 – were a proliferation of technology suppliers to the fashion and textile industries.  Core PLM was present in abundance, with large-scale booths by Lectra, Assyst and Gerber Technology, and smaller presences from CGS, PTC, InSys, W+P International, Kopperman and more.  No longer greeted with confused stares, PLM is now bona-fide industry bedrock, and the fierce competition that we see between vendors every day was at its starkest with many of the leaders gathered in one place.

Lectra in particular made a bold showing, occupying a pristine booth with not a single piece of technology on display.  No cutters; no Fashion PLM; no CAD.  Not even a laptop.  This was in extreme contrast to Gerber Technology, whose equally stylish stand was packed to bursting with assistants walking delegates through their hands-on experiences with YuniquePLM, Yunique 360; CAD/CAM and other products.

Neither approach is necessarily the “right” one, but they are each emblematic of a much broader trend: vendors solving problems, rather than selling software.  Now more than ever, prospective customers aren’t just faced with the decision of whether to buy Fashion PLM or YuniquePLM (or FlexPLM, or ENOVIA, or Centric 8, or Assyst, or any other PLM solution for that matter), they’re making the choice between ecosystems and solutions as well as between the products themselves.

This is something the most forward-thinking vendors have long recognised – particularly those who deal in hardware as well as software.  And this is why shows like TexProcess represent an opportunity that goes beyond simply showing off individual applications – they serve as a chance for delegates to experience each vendor’s portfolio in a holistic sense, and to get to know the companies behind the solutions.

And get to know them we did.

Over a three-day period we spoke to as many of the extended PLM vendors present as possible, and readers can look forward to in-depth, exclusive interviews with Lectra, Gerber, PTC, InSys, Assyst, W+P and more in the coming days.  In a broader sense, though, the trends we had the opportunity to discuss with them ranged further than just a rejuvenation of their communications strategies – something that will be explored in greater depth in our coverage of the Gerber Technology and Lectra press conferences, as well as our exclusive interviews with senior executives from both companies.

It was clear, at any rate, that every vendor sees the European market as a rich opportunity, and conversely, vendors who have previously focused on countries like Germany are now beginning to look further afield for expansion.

And it isn’t just new markets that are attracting attention: a number of vendors have begun to build what they call truly integrated systems (comprising PLM, ERP, PIM and other supply chain solutions) on the Microsoft Dynamics AX platform.  And, as we have seen at numerous single-vendor shows and elsewhere, a considerably number of suppliers have bet large on 3D working – from the design stage to the prototyping and sampling process, tied together by PLM.  These added-value components are the cornerstones of many vendors’ research and development efforts, alongside the improvement of their core platforms and the launch of new initiatives such as mobile device integration – something we saw in some unexpected places this year.

All that said, several European and international PLM vendors were notable in their complete absence from the show, in both core and extended PLM form.  At least two of these I wholly expected to see present, since they have invested significantly in three-dimensional and mobile working.

Away from PLM itself, technology continued to play a vital role in taking ideas from design to delivery, with fit occupying an especially prominent position.  As well as dedicated fit companies like Alvanon, dedicated PLM vendors like Assyst and Lectra are also beginning to place a great deal of emphasis on the importance of accurate and consistent fit.  The latter of these had a veritable army of dress forms on show, gleaned from European size surveys conducted using 3D body-scanning techniques – the same methods employed for the production of Alvanon’s similarly meticulous dressforms.  Beyond shape and size, colour and material were hardly given short shrift, with precision cutters and digital, quick colour matching technologies on display.

Unifying all of these trends, of course, is a continuous thread of product information (what we routinely call “master data”) that includes everything from the grade rules established during fit sessions, to the drape characteristics of the materials chosen through three-dimensional experimentation.  Novel uses for that master data abounded at TexProcess, with the most prominent being its application for marketing and point of sale purposes.  The MobiMedia group in particular presented an extremely rich customer experience platform, pulling data from a product information system to populate an attractive, multifunctional touchscreen catalogue.

Although TexProcess was not home to quite the kind of bleeding-edge innovation in information technology we see at shows like NRF, in many ways it would be simpler for us to list the things we didn’t see – like a several-day rota of presenters speaking about a diverse range of topics on the Forum stage, or the sheer volume of mechanical and mechanistic innovations that crowded the manufacturing halls.

However replete a show is with any kind of content, though, we end up with the inescapable question of whether in-person trade fairs have had their day.  After all, the argument goes, isn’t much of what we see in convention centres and Messes around the world available to view in some capacity online, or with a pre-arranged demonstration?

There is a kernel of truth this sort of prodding, but with delegate numbers at an all time high (the organisers quote a 15% increase on 2011’s figures, to a total of 40,000) it seems as though the demand is certainly there.  With no division between ticket types, however, it would be difficult to quantify just how many visitors were attracted by the promise of the more IT-led TexProcess and how many came instead to see the latest developments in textile hardware hands-on.

What I can say with some degree of certainty, though, is that it’s strange for an industry so resolutely focused on delivering tangible goods (right clothes, right time, right price, right market) to make these routine pilgrimages to glitzy meccas that aren’t necessarily well-suited to the experience of evaluating software.

Strange, but understandable when we remember just how much goes into a garment.  The trims and the trends and the CAD and the colours are all well and good, but I suspect that we continue to flock to events like TexProcess because so much of the remainder of a garment – or a shoe, or an accessory – is governed or given by people.  People make products; people consume them.  And no single stand at this year’s show was staffed by anyone less than the parent company’s best – making this and shows like it a valuable opportunity for anybody with even a passing interest in the reverberating power of technology for fashion.

A hot conference hall may not be the best place to find or evaluate a PLM solution, then, but it can be a fine place to discover and understand the twisting topography of the market itself, meeting its influential figures and peering over the horizon into its future along the way.

That’s worth four halls to me, and maybe more.

Watch for our exclusive TexProcess executive interviews over the coming days, as well as detailed coverage of the press conferences given by Gerber Technology and Lectra and other leading technology suppliers.

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