Technical designers are a connecting thread in the product development process. They spend their days communicating designs to factories and making sure the designers vision is carried out. So what happens to their role as technology allows faster and easier visual communication?
I've heard some thought provoking questions lately around what skills are needed for those looking to start careers in pattern-making or technical design today.
⦁ Are companies looking for individuals with digital pattern-making and 3D design experience?
⦁ How do you identify if someone has the skills to work in Technical Design? What skills are needed for 3D pattern-making or prototyping?
Let's take a step back. Technical design as a career path took hold in the nineties. As companies off-shored garment production, they realized pattern-making could also move overseas. To effectively communicate with overseas pattern-makers a new role emerged. Someone who was responsible for technical communication between US designers and the overseas technical staff. Some pattern-makers moved into these roles, but also individuals with design backgrounds who were comfortable with fit and garment construction.
At the same time, the industry was beginning to take advantage of digital communication. Product specifications could be sent via e-mail in seconds instead of faxed page by page. Those with years of experience hand sketching learned to sketch with Adobe Illustrator. Digital cameras allowed images of fittings and products to be captured and transmitted quickly.
Technical designers today range in responsibilities and skills. Some companies require adept pattern-makers capable of correcting patterns and evaluating grading. Other companies expect technical designers to communicate issues to the factories and allow the factories to determine how to correct the fit problems. Some technical designers work on only fit while others may need a strong knowledge of garment construction, manufacturing methods, quality testing, labeling regulations, color, fabric, and trims.
The technology at each company ranges from creating specifications in Excel to highly customized Product Lifecyle Management (PLM) systems and 3D pattern-making. PLM software has been in wide use for many years. However, many companies have only recently began to leverage the ability to manage tasks or utilize the systems to directly communicate with suppliers. Task notifications can be sent to factories and factories can enter information directly into PLM systems.
A few leading retailers have already learned the advantages of 3D design or pattern-making systems, while others are beginning to pilot systems. WhichPLM has done a great job of recapping excitement around 3D at the recent PI Apparel conference. A few roles as virtual technical designer have emerged, both within corporations and individual firms like Fireflyline. Generally, technical designers and pattern-makers are asked to learn 3D while maintaining their other duties.
Technical design five to ten years from now will look very different from today. The development specification including measurements, construction information, and images will be gone. All this information can be condensed into a 3D file. The desired stitching can be communicated via the 3D image. The measurements, fabric, and color information can be included in the file or integrated with a PLM system. 3D software providers are beginning to form strategic partnerships with PLM providers to accomplish this integration.
Currently, 3D is primarily used as a prototyping tool, but the advantages of designing directly in the system will quickly be learned. Software will evolve to make it easier for designers and pattern-makers to collaborate. Browzwear has two separate systems; V-stitcher to create the 3D prototype from the 2D pattern and Lotta for designers to review stitch details, prints, and embellishments. The role of designer and technical designer may merge. Designers will desire to use 3D modeling tools so they can adjust proportion and scale of style lines, pockets, and prints or graphics directly. Why wait to see a sample and then need to communicate to shift a yoke seam or change a pocket size?
Will a production measurement specification be needed? Perhaps not. Someone may develop an app allowing depth sensing cameras or scanners to measure production garments compared to development garments or specifications.
The best technical designers will be those who find new ways to use the technology available to them. Companies utilizing 3D are investing time in training staff. They are also beginning to partner with colleges to ask that 2D and 3D pattern-making be implemented into the curriculum. Individuals are realizing the breadth of tools available are not only those created for the industry but also the everyday tools they use to communicate. Smart phones, tablets, Skype, and other communication applications allow us to visually communicate with the other side of the world easier than ever.
The next post will focus on training and development of apparel professionals and students to prepare them for this exciting future.
The excitement around 3D pattern-making and prototyping at Techtextil North America / Texprocess Americas 2016 was amazing. Wednesday a panel of speakers discussed 3D Evolution: Using 3D in the Apparel Fit Process. Individuals from UnderArmour, VF Jeanswear, and Adrianna Papell shared benefits their companies have experienced using various 3D software solutions. Questions following the presentations proved that many attending were seriously exploring how 3D could benefit their organizations.
3D Panel Speakers:
Pat Trautman, Moderator
Shannon Moulden - Under Armour
Jami Dunbar - Under Armour
Robert Garner - VF Jeanswear
Margarita Pasakarnis - VF Jeanswear
Ashesh Amin - Adrianna Papell
Adam Smythe - Human Solutions Assyst
Under Armour, VF Jeanswear, and Adrianna Papell are each using a different software but experiencing many of the same benefits. Each has integrated the use of the software in ways that work with their infrastructure and business practices. For instance, at VF Jeanswear, US based pattern-makers are responsible for creating 3D virtual garments using Browzwear's VStitcher. Adrianna Papell's pattern-makers in China use Tukatech software at the factory. Under Armour technical design staff can use 3D to create 3D virtual garments before proceeding with physical samples.
The companies discussed the multitude of ways they are utilizing 3D pattern-making tools.
Benefits mentioned by the panel included:
Using Optitex software has allowed Under Armour to rapidly prototype multiple style options before making final decisions. They are also able to review placements of graphic prints on multiple garment sizes.
Additional interesting uses of 3D virtual prototypes included:
Sally, one of your best customers called this morning and said the buttondown shirt she ordered doesn’t fit the same as the previous styles she bought from you. You start investigating and find the latest item Sally purchased was made at a new factory.
You have fit every style on the same fit model. You reviewed the patterns from the new factory with each fit sample. The pattern shapes are consistent with the blouses Sally has previously purchased. Sally is a size 16, so you check your graded measurement specification. The size 16 measurements matches your previous styles. You measure a size 16 shirt and it measures correctly. What could be wrong?
The final step in fit consistency is the grading. A graded measurement set is only one step in validating the grading is consistent. The other step, is checking a nested graded pattern. A nested graded pattern shows the patterns for each size stacked together.
Each point on the pattern has an X and Y axis. Uh, Oh! Flashbacks of high school geometry! The image below shows the grade for the shoulder of the shirt for sizes 4-16. In this case the grade is half of the across shoulder measurement on the measurement specification. Remember, you are looking at half the pattern.
Problems found in graded patterns usually don’t come from the points that match up to the graded measurements. The most frequent issues are when proportions are not maintained. For instance, the image to the right shows a pattern with a shoulder slope that decreases and increases by size. You could give a shoulder slope measurement on your graded specs, but it is a difficult measurement for quality auditors to check. The shape along the lower armhole curve is also flatter, which can’t be controlled on a measurement specification.
How do you prevent these problems?
If you don’t understand grading well enough to review the pattern, find someone who does. And don’t feel that you need to be an expert. Graders can make errors like everyone else. The best novelists still need copy editors to catch basic grammar errors.
Do you need technology?
No, you can check a paper version of a nested grade. You’ll need a clear plastic ruler and extra time to ship patterns back and forth.
The advantage to electronic patterns is speed. Grading is faster. Grading from whole sections can be copied. For instance, once the front pattern piece is graded, the points can be copied to the back. Patterns can be passed back and forth via e-mail for review. Nested graded patterns can easily be separated into separate sizes for use in making a marker.
Many brands and factories will make the first patterns by hand on paper. Once the style is fit approved, they will digitize the pattern to create an electronic file. Electronic systems can then be used for grading and marker making. Even if the pattern is graded electronically, they can still print a copy and send to you for review.