Excerpted from my mail:
Another topic I’d love to hear your take on: body scanning. Specifically, the goal of taking a 3-D scan of an individual and having an automated system whereby that scan drives the appropriate adjustments to a base pattern and turns out a customized pattern for that individual on the other end. Is it do-able in a commercial sense? Perhaps not for a company like H & M who turns over styles super fast, but could a company such as Lands End take some of their most popular designs and make them available for such a customization service?
I’m probably not the best person to answer this question for several reasons these being:
1. My focus is basic education using basic technologies; I’m a lean manufacturing proponent. For example, I don’t write about CAD either and 3D body scanning is a leg up from that. The reason is that technology -while useful- is not a substitute for core competencies. In the case of CAD, you need to know how to make patterns by hand before you can effectively use the software to make patterns. In my opinion, most of the problems in our industry are due to a lack of competency. Somebody’s got to cover the basics; hence my mission. I do bring in outside authors for given topics (one is upcoming) but I keep a core focus on the basics rather than the latest and greatest.
- I am conservative when it comes to adopting technology. The potentiality of technology is too often used as a magic wand or a miracle cure. Toyota, for all its exemplary products, is similarly conservative. A major concept of lean manufacturing is that core competencies must be developed using standard tools first. Once a technology is proven, then it is cautiously adopted. This hasn’t hurt Toyota in the slightest. Rather, it’s prevented them from becoming yet another dead automaker. Another example is JC Penneys with regards to the big push to adopt RFID chips. Penneys is “watching it closely” but remains unconvinced. Similarly, there’s always the latest and greatest in manufacturing philosophies laid similarly by the wayside.
3. As time passes, I’m becoming even more convinced that niche manufacturing will continue to stratify and grow. While I don’t deny that retailers are increasingly converging, the increased demands from consumers will continue to drive the impetus of niche manufacturing. For example, the latest news from the NY Times is that Neiman’s, Saks and Bloomingdales have dropped petite sizes from their stores. Considering that the average woman is a petite being 5’3″ (according to the latest data); I can only see the logical consequence of this as driving yet more demand from consumers to create apparel to fit this market. When you couple the long lead times required for push manufacturing schedules, this will only serve to heat the demand for faster turn around -in other words- lean manufacturing from smaller companies. I have little doubt big box retailers will continue to fight over a smaller and smaller portion of the American apparel pie, leaving yet more opportunity for DEs to develop profitable enterprises whilst retailers scrabble and scuffle. I have long predicted that the total number of apparel companies will increase, reflecting the increasingly diverse needs of apparel consumers. Returning to your question, I don’t see the lack of 3D body scanning as being an impediment to the growth of DE companies, any more than their lack of CAD is. The latter need can be met by pattern services in the grading and marking process.
- With specific regard to your question:
“Perhaps not for a company like H & M who turns over styles super fast, but could a company such as Lands End take some of their most popular designs and make them available for such a customization service?”
I agree that fast fashion companies -what I’m trying to build here with the focus on lean- will remain less affected. For one thing, they’re not focusing of fitting broad swathes of the market but niches as defined by income, interests and increasingly, age. Second, their cycle time is faster, consequently their fitting cycle iterations are reduced to a season or at most two. So, I don’t believe they’ll need to rely on having such technology in house. With regards to Lands End, who can say? As a large enterprise and a push manufacturer, their constraints are their very structure so I’d haphazard a guess by saying it is unlikely. To adopt 3D technology, their entire infrastructure would need to change. First they’d need accessible entry points to measure consumers meaning a lot of 3D stations. As a catalog company, I’d find their options for entry points to be limited at best. Second, they’d need rapid cycling in patterns (read: a lot more pattern makers) to say nothing of CAM (computer aided manufacturing, costing lots and lots of money), meaning they’d need the capability to cut one offs non-stop and at the drop of a hat. Third, they’d need domestic production, meaning they’d need a lot of small operators to sew this stuff up. I just don’t see it happening. Their very size constricts them. Lands End may realize profits on their existing economy of scale but I can’t see them transitioning downward successfully. If I’m not mistaken, Levi’s tried this -an early adopter of new technology- but has since abandoned the enterprise.
Personally, while I find body scanning to be interesting, I don’t find it viable for most DEs. Not to say that couldn’t change in the future but I don’t forsee widespread adoption of the technology. I think it could be useful for manufacturers in the development of prototype fitting and in the development of targeting a given consumer demography but little beyond that. That’s not to say some DEs won’t adopt it, indeed several have. Just that adoption will be limited to those with deep pockets or those who have backers with deep pockets. Having the technology is only part of the solution. One must also have the people who can translate those scans into patterns and also, one must have the one-off cutting capacity to say nothing of the equivalent of a factory full of sample makers sewing up the one-offs. From outside the industry, this issue has been seen as a possibility to go truly lean but I don’t think it’s appropriate. As I’ve always said, you can’t pull corn or coats like cars. In dirt industries -of which apparel is one- batch processing in some degree will remain unavoidable.