The changing role of the creative designer in Industry 4.0
While much of the focus of Industry 4.0 is on production, the role of the creative designer is also constantly evolving and is being influenced and enabled by new digital tech
Pete Santora, chief commercial officer at Softwear Automation, which creates autonomous sewn good production lines using robotic solutions, points to three particularly significant changes.
Firstly, he says the design must be pulled from the consumer, “rather than just created in isolation and pushed down to them,” and digital technologies can help this research. While this is already happening, as new designs are adapted and scaled from social media influencers, “this is just a start,” he says. “As manufacturing capabilities get closer to the customer and reaction time shrinks, this trend will only accelerate.”
Secondly Santora stresses that design will need to remain flexible all the way through manufacturing, to allow for consumer feedback. “Designs must allow for the customer to participate and adapt the designer’s work while still maintaining the vision,” he explains. “This creates a lot of stress on the manufacturing process, but offers a real opportunity for growth.”
“No longer can designers ignore the impact that the factory making process will have on the overall design. They will need to build new skills around ‘design for automation’” – Pete Santora, Softwear Automation
Thirdly, he says designers need to design “with automation in mind.” He notes Industry 4.0 creates a new set of limitations dictated by technology, rather than customer, material and company alone. “No longer can designers ignore the impact that the factory making process will have on the overall design,” he says. “They will need to build new skills around ‘design for automation.’”
Karin Bursa, executive vice president at Logility, which provides supply chain management software to the clothing industry, agrees that designers can best adapt and benefit from Industry 4.0 “by embracing change and digital transformation.”
She adds the increased collaboration and visibility to information driven by Industry 4.0 can help inspire new designs and direct activity towards more profitable investments and the merchandise that will sell quickly. “It is time to marry the art and science of design to drive better investments in merchandise,” she says.
Technology solutions allowing this to happen include Logility’s Inspiration Board, which brings together digital assets from across the supply chain “to bring a designer’s inspirations such as fabrics, visuals and styles together with the intelligence of sourcing, compliance and manufacturing and the discipline of the financial planning process,” Bursa explains.
“The digitalisation brought about by Industry 4.0 brings together these once disparate functions into a single view to help bring the creative designer’s vision to market faster.”
Another example is NGC Software’s cloud-based Andromeda PLM solution, which provides a common platform for all PLM-related elements including planning, merchandising, design, costing, sampling, quality and sourcing.
“The right 3D design tools will offer intelligence in an intuitive interface that offers instant realistic visual feedback to the designer” - Edward Hollyday, vice president, Black Swan Textiles
“Workflow calendars allow users to track progress, predict unexpected delays and keep all departments on the same page in real time,” says Mark Burstein, president of NGC Software, adding that the solution also includes critical path management and role-specific dashboards.
“Because Andromeda PLM is part of the digital supply chain, it is connected to the entire supply chain ecosystem, which senses constantly changing demand signals,” he says. “This allows designers to quickly react to consumer demand, which is critically important, since fashion trends come and go so quickly.”
Edward Hollyday, vice president of Black Swan Textiles, a digital consultancy for the apparel industry, notes such technology “allows ‘right first time’ as a design capability, not just a manufacturing KPI.”
He stresses that integrating data in the right design tool for the creative designer is critical: “The right 3D design tools will offer intelligence in an intuitive interface that offers instant realistic visual feedback to the designer,” he explains. “Built-in algorithms allow designers to leverage experience via historical data to make better decisions.”
Solutions are also emerging that help designers meet the increasing demand for personalised clothing while still maintaining a brand’s design identity.
Craig Crawford says that London, UK-based Unmade is one business that can help achieve this. The company’s software platform allows the design of a garment from scratch and can custom create items on-demand by generating the manufacturing files to make the products and then sending them to the relevant factory.
While initially focused on creating its own bespoke items, Unmade has evolved to partner with brands using its software, such as cyclewear label Rapha and Scottish cashmere business Johnstons of Elgin.
“The creation of the Material Exchange SaaS [software-as-a-service] platform has re-imagined the selection process and limited the need for costly physical samples, whilst meeting speed to market requirements and reducing product development timescales” – Darren Glenister, CEO, Material Exchange
Crawford says Unmade’s solution possesses a key benefit for brands. “Mass personalisation is not new,” he says, noting that NikeiD (now called Nike By You), for example, “has been doing that for a while.” But Nike’s platform “doesn’t have any aesthetic constraints – so anybody can pick anything that’s in there and put it together,” he explains.
By contrast, Unmade “allows designers to make aesthetic decisions, so they can say ‘I don’t want this or that colour,’ or ‘don’t let them choose that – they can choose from these options or colours.’ Therefore, the brand aesthetic is protected.”
Designers can take advantage of other solutions designed to help material selection. The Stockholm, Sweden based Material Exchange, for instance, works with retail apparel and footwear brands to analyse, optimise, provide transparency and digitise their material supply chains, allowing its clients, their material suppliers and manufacturers to collaborate in a secure environment and work together digitally, for instance through accessing digital fabric samples.
“The creation of the Material Exchange SaaS [software-as-a-service] platform has re-imagined the selection process and limited the need for costly physical samples, whilst meeting speed to market requirements and reducing product development timescales,” says the Material Exchange CEO Darren Glenister.
Headline image: SoftWear Automation creates autonomous sewn goods production lines using robotic solutions
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