The Cloud PLM software revolution  

Cloud PLM (product lifecycle management) software solutions are growing in number and functionalities to meet fashion clients’ needs as brands strive to improve their cost savings, sustainability and transparency. Andreia Nogueira reports.  

Cloud PLM software tools have evolved to help fashion brands compete. Credit: Shutterstock.

PLM software helps to manage goods and associated data from production to disposal. With today’s growing requirements on circular economies and transparent supply chains, it helps companies manage their raw materials and the end-of-life of their products through shared data and processes integration.    

“When smart technologies like AI [Artificial Intelligence] and the IoT [Internet of Things] come into the mix, modern PLM solutions can provide real-time insights into product performance, customer feedback, and market trends,” allowing companies to “develop the next generation of products, at a lower cost” and quicker, explained German software developer SAP on its website. Digital twins can be efficient tools in this regard, with these virtual models of products connected to their physical twins via IoT.   

You cannot be sustainable on your own. The whole industry must become sustainable. We must cooperate and collaborate.

Carlo Capasa tells Just Style.

Affordable options for smaller businesses 

These solutions are increasingly being offered in the cloud as software-as-a-service (SaaS), making them more accessible anytime and anywhere through their remote server hosts, and therefore more affordable for smaller businesses.    

Dr Jo Conlon, senior lecturer in fashion business and technology and programme director at the University of Manchester in the UK told Just Style that at present, the two largest PLM solutions for fashion Centric Software and PTC’s systems, such as Windchill and FlexPLM, remain dominant, with “most of the large retailers certainly in Europe” working with one of them.   

Software developer Centric Software, which promises to help create sustainable collections, speed time to market and drive growth, has received several awards for its innovation, digitalisation and business expansion.    

Last September, the company started a partnership with fashion technology company Alvanon to integrate “3D avatars into Centric PLM 3D workflows, for a true and complete end-to-end 3D process,” according to a company statement. Among Centric Software clients are US clothing company Guess and Swiss underwear manufacturer Triumph International.   

Meanwhile, software developer PTC has also been innovating and expanding its PLM offerings. A company memorandum explained its Windchill solution “enables easy integration with other enterprise systems, including IoT”, and it “expands self-service access of traceable product data to non-experts who don’t typically use PLM, while avoiding over-customisation and complexity.” 

But while these suppliers continue to score sales, Dr Conlon said alternative PLM solutions are well worth assessing. “Smaller more flexible” PLM providers like CGS (Computer Generated Solutions) BlueCherry is one. Multinational US IT firm Infor and the UK-based DeSL have also “become quite exciting for smaller businesses” and textile mills, since they run “preconfigured PLM solutions available through multi-tenant licences,” i.e. cloud-based which serves multiple customers simultaneously, she said.   

The company explained BlueCherry Next PLM “is fully omnichannel” and accessible from any browser, it offers “3D and digital product creation,” and “extended PLM from design and development to raw materials sourcing, purchase orders, sample and workflow tracking,” besides integrating internal teams and vendors, and helping to “manage supplier compliance, factory audits and corporate social responsibility,” among other features. 

Mines in Bayan Obo in Inner Mongolia, China, extract one the largest deposits of rare earth metals found in the world. Credit: Bert van Dijk/Getty images

Fashion PLM tools  

Other fashion PLM tools suggested by software companies and clothing manufacturers include: Yunique, which is owned by software company Gerber Technology and allows companies to synchronise product lines and financial plans to streamline design and development; and Propel Software system, which received the highest scores for ‘performance’ and ‘supporting products and services’ criteria from research and advisory firm Forrester Research.    

Yet, Dr Conlon, who authored the study ‘From PLM 1.0 to PLM 2.0: the evolving role of product lifecycle management (PLM) in the textile and apparel industries,’ published in the Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, stressed that “companies need to look at the best [cloud PLM] solutions for their specific aspirations and their specific problems”.    

While the overarching mission of PLM helping organisations to streamline “people, processes and product data…remains the same”, it has now “more advanced tools”, she noted. She added that its role is expanding as the central source for product data is a linchpin between different business systems, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) to manage day-to-day business activities, customer relationship management (CRM) and digital product creation (DPC).    

Thanks to digital product creation and digital twins managed by PLM software solutions, textile and clothing producers can benefit from tools such as the Frontier.cool software, from software developer Frontier. This enables companies to use an office scanner to produce a downloadable and exportable file as a digital product creation tool, instead of having to send hangouts or swatches to retailers.    

Furthermore, Dr Conlon said, software created by tech company Made2Flow can be linked both to PLM and Frontier.cool to add environmental information about products to help companies meet their mandatory sustainability reporting, which is now being rolled out in the European Union (EU) and to make more sustainable products from the design stage. In fact, since last November (2022), Made2Flow and Frontier.cool have been cooperating to scan and upload fabrics and display their environmental impact, according to Frontier.   

Despite this innovation, accounting and consulting firm PwC has said 83% of executives believe their supply chain technology investments have not delivered their expected results, so there is space for the PLM software market to grow.  

Dr Conlon noticed that “large retailers and brands are very far ahead in their PLM journey whereas smaller businesses,'' which “make up most of the fashion and textile” sector, “have been left behind” because these technologies were too pricey, or they did not have the ability to adopt them. However, she added, nowadays, there are “affordable and available [options] in SaaS modular bite-size pieces”.  

Challenges with implementing effective PLM systems  

In her opinion there are still some challenges related to implementing effective PLM systems such as a lack of “good quality, robust, well known, well-articulated processes,” skilled people to perform the required tasks and “good quality, reliable product data.”  

“Security and IP [intellectual property] are one of the number one reasons why manufacturing has resisted” adopting cloud technologies, but as companies must “achieve transparency and sustainability [in the future], that is something that has to be managed”, she advised, adding that multi-tenant sites are “probably more secure” against external attacks than internal PLM systems.    

As clothing and textile companies expand, Dr Conlon also recommended a data analytics tool called Tableau from Tableau Software, which helps people see and understand data with visualisation, and a data integration software tool from Cleo is said to be especially useful when mergers and acquisitions result in different systems that need to be simultaneously operated.    

Finally, the lecturer recommended that firms choose young people to work on their PLM systems because they may challenge the company’s organisation with innovative ideas, and involve their suppliers in developing their PLM solutions, to expand related insights.