3D tools: Making prototyping cheaper and faster in the footwear and apparel industry

3D tools have become popular in industries dominated by discrete processes. The manufacturing, electronics and capital goods industries have led the use of CAD, CAM, etc. They have successfully used these tools to also model information, test materials, designs, geometries and products as well as simulate product behavior and operating environments. This has allowed businesses to efficiently reduce costs around scarce resources, enhance sustainability, get rid of material handling and achieve faster time-to-market. Can 3D tools bring about the same efficiencies in the footwear and apparel industry? 

The apparel and footwear (and accessories) industry has been taking major leaps in using Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) over the last few years. Virtual fitting rooms and try ons have come up, showing how advanced technology can serve this industry to create superior sales content. But designing apparel and footwear differs from creating sales content. This is because materials used in the fashion industry have characteristics that can make the adoption of 3D tools a challenge. For example, cotton fabric used in a shirt will fall differently from silk used in the same design. While the design remains the same, the outcome in terms of fabric fall and feel is dramatically different. Fortunately, over the last few months, with the limitations imposed by the lockdowns and social distancing enforced by COVID-19, 3D design tools are starting to mainstream.

Not so long ago, when a fashion designer created a garment, the design would be sent to a factory, say in China, for samples to be manufactured. A person would have to be deployed near the factory to examine and send sample products to the headquarters for final testing (on live models – which is also an expensive process), validation and approvals. Now 3D tools are being used to replace these time-consuming and expensive processes, from design to development and from prototyping to production. A major advantage of 3D tools is that they can be integrated with PLM, ensuring that collaborative processes related to procurement, approvals, BOM, marketing and sales can also be made part of a seamless workflow. 

Most advanced 3D tools for the apparel, footwear and accessories industry can now be provisioned with a ready-to-use color, texture, material and trim catalogue plus a style and fit library with size ranges. The photorealistic rendering by the 3D tools allows designers to create complex products. It allows them to work accurately and make as many pattern changes as necessary—quickly, efficiently and without material loss. Even fabric folds and falls can be rendered accurately using digital sensors and simulators. The tools can also simulate the pressure of fabrics and materials while static or in motion. 

Lead times for design and development processes can be slashed by 15 to 20% using 3D tools while the sampling costs can be reduced by as much as 20%. But the principal appeal of these tools, however, lies in giving designers tremendous flexibility, letting their creativity flourish. That is what every footwear and apparel business desires.


Nitin Ratti
General Manager, PLM
ITC Infotech

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