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Faced with increasing pressure to meet today's digital consumers' demand for personalization, varieties and values – all under shrinking lead times and heightened competition – the foremost strategy in the apparel industry is to minimize time and cost related to product development and market launch. Top companies are leading the field in 3D virtual technology applications in this area, enabling them to reduce time and cost to market, while simplifying process and improving supply chain collaboration. -John Coyle, Professor Emeritus, Logistics and Supply Chain Management; Steve Tracey, Executive Director of the Center for Supply Chain Research; and Kusumal Ruamsook, Research Associate of the Center for Supply Chain Research, all at Penn State
Our research and experience working with companies in the industry suggest that 3D virtual prototyping (VP), which was already commonly used in hardline industries like furniture and automotive, is gaining momentum among top apparel brands. This, to a certain extent, is due to advance in VP technologies that gear specifically to softline product development (e.g., 3D fit/drape, fabric, texture, and stitching lines simulation).
We expect that this momentum will continue in the next few years with even more brands adopting VP technologies (e.g., 3D computer aid design, virtual reality and augmented reality). The applications will also broaden across various stages of new product development (NPD) and for the purpose beyond design visualization, ranging from researching voice of customer (VOC), exploring a design concept, communicating the design ideas to other stakeholders and users, evaluating design alternatives, verifying functional feasibility, to testing and validating the technical feasibility of manufacturing processes before proceeding to a pilot production of physical products.
Through the aforementioned applications, leading companies are digitally transforming their NPD model in a way that enables them to simultaneously achieve shorter concept-to-consumer cycle time, increase quality, reduce costs and wastes, and improve collaboration among internal and external supply chain members. Some of the key transformative features of VP-enabled NPD models are:
From linear sequential to adaptive concurrent process. VPs render realistic, high-fidelity visualization of a design concept that can be shared visually for review and discussion over the internet among different teams across the globe (e.g., design, development, production). By performing simulation, they can experiment directly and iteratively on the same VP in terms of possible variants of colors, textures and materials, as well as functional behavior of the product. Modifications can be done and visually viewed immediately, enabling flexibility to concurrently and adaptively design, develop and productize under the inherent NPD uncertainty.
From product-centric to customer-centric innovation. VPs enable customer-centric NPD by making it more efficient and engaging for consumers or end users to participate early in co-creation and iterative design experiments. VPs can be presented to customers over internet-based social networks or forums to gauge their reactions and feedback that can be incorporated quickly into the next design iteration. Another VP that reflects customers’ inputs can be developed and beta-tested before moving forward with development.
From knowledge sharing to collective knowledge building. Given the knowledge-intensive nature of NPD, VPs play an important role as a single “master” representation of the product. Used as a standardized interfacing device, VPs facilitate “externalization” of individuals’ tacit knowledge as they articulate their knowledge through prototyping. The tacit knowledge collectively captured and embedded into the VPs creates explicit knowledge that can be readily transmitted to others in the form that eliminates interpretive barriers and optimizes reuse.
In the longer term, applications of 3D virtual prototyping will extend beyond NPD to encompass the entire product lifecycle management, with VPs being integrated into PLM solutions, e-commerce, data management and analytics, and other business systems. Visionary companies already leverage VPs developed during NPD in merchandising that creates more intimate retail customer experiences both in store and online (e.g., 3D assortment planning and planogram, virtual 3D showroom, and virtual fitting room and lifestyle experiences).
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