What Does HD-PLM Mean for the Fashion Industry?

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A few months ago, when Siemens PLM Software unveiled its High Definition Product Lifecycle Management (HD-PLM) technology, designers and product developers in aerospace, automotive, and other similar industries were probably excited about this new offering as they saw the opportunity to enhance their decision making.

I was also excited, and saw HD-PLM as a sign that PLM vendors were starting to pay more attention to the user experience (as discussed in a previous blog post). The topic I’d like to discuss in this post is this: Will HD-PLM be beneficial to the fashion industry? After all, the fashion industry seems very different from industries requiring heavy engineering work.

It is true that a fashion designer doesn’t need to analyze a piece of fabric using finite element analysis (FEA) applications, mine through tons of requirements documentation in order to determine the dimension of a collar, or anything similar. However, fashion designers and product developers do need to make decisions as their peers in other industries do. As Siemens PLM states: “HD-PLM personalizes your user experience, assists you proactively to make decisions, clarifies your understanding with rich information, and validates the decisions you make against best practices.” I think the fashion industry can benefit from the HD-PLM approach as well.

Insights into a variety of products

Fashion goods are usually simple (in terms of product structure) but often produced with a great deal of variety. If we treat the typical fashion product assortment as a single product, perhaps we can consider that this “product” is in fact no less complicated than products in many other industries.

To fashion companies, the performance of current products is a critical decision factor in future product development. A while ago, I participated in a weekly meeting at a footwear company where previous week-best sellers of each line were vividly presented to the entire product development team. I really liked this practice but I think product developers should also be able to have a richer, more granular, and more connected view (amongst different products and between existing and in-development products) over the product assortment in the digital world, and I think HD-PLM is a good candidate for this.

Agility to deal with fashion trends

Fashion products don’t have rigid and heavy requirements (in the way medical equipment has, for example), but the work of capturing the softer but much more unstructured requirements (in other words, fashion trends) is no easy job. Currently this job is mainly performed by human brains. Considering the fast cycle of fashion trends and the many channels through which these “requirements” come (e.g., fashion shows, trend research organizations, partners, consumers, sales associates), aids for trend capturing and analysis from computer systems should be appreciated—and all the more appreciated if this capability is integrated within a PLM framework.

Holistic view of product feasibility

In practice, people tend to separate product feasibility into two categories:

1. Technical feasibility, which focuses on what a product is and how it can be manufactured

2. Commercial feasibility, which addresses how the product can be manufactured and delivered toward a profit

These two feasibilities are often treated as separate responsibilities in many organizations, but there’s definitely a trend toward allowing the two sides to speak to one another more frequently and constantly. Having a holistic view of overall product feasibility is especially beneficial to the fashion industry, which has been driven to a situation where profitability is very sensitive to raw material, production cost, transportation, etc. As a matter of fact, many of today’s PLM solutions for the fashion industry have already gone beyond the business process coverage of a traditional PLM solution. The next step is to make downstream processes more influential on decision-making on the product design stage.

While believing that HD-PLM as an approach is very relevant to the fashion industry, I guess there’s a lot of work to be done if Siemens PLM wants to help fashion players realize this HD-PLM vision. I’m heading for the Siemens Industry Software Analyst Conference next week and will try to figure out more details about what Siemens PLM has to offer to the fashion industry. Stay tuned.
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