Technology for mass personalisation and on-demand manufacturing

This article originally appeared on WTiN 17 April 2020 based on an interview by Joe Link. 

 

Technologies have emerged with the promise to streamline operations, but for a solution to be successful it must work at scale and be cost effective. To date, large swathes of the apparel industry accept that change is necessary but have been slow to adopt disruptive technologies. On-demand manufacturing is a term we hear a lot: the emerging business model is seen by many as the future of the apparel industry. Similarly, the print-on-demand and personalization trend has been gaining traction in the last decade as consumers show a weariness towards mass-produced, bulk fashion

 

vPersonalize duo Bala Selvarajan and Robert Johnson talk to Joseph Link about the importance of mass personalisation and on-demand manufacturing to the textile supply chain. Below are some excerpts.

vPersonalize’s Chief Revenue Officer (CRO), Robert Johnson, believes that transforming the supply chain is a collective effort that ties together the technology providers, brands, direct-to-garment (DTG) sector, textile printers and consumers.

“On the supply side, we see a growing migration to dye sublimation and print on demand because it offers better margins and the ability to create retail quality products on-demand,” says Johnson. “This in turn creates a new pool of suppliers that brands and retailers can tap into. The real power of this disruption is that this new supply chain is local.”

One outcome of this disruption, Johnson points out, is the re-shoring movement. It has become a viable prospect to use technology to manufacture locally, through which turnaround times can be slashed.

“The main driver of personalization is targeted small-batch manufacturing which allows a brand to create, and experiment with, thousands of designs and size variants. The benefits include lower inventory costs and the ability to only manufacture a product after it has been purchased. This is the real promise of personalisation and on-demand manufacturing: make what sells, when it sells and get it to the nearest store where it sells,” Johnson adds.

“Print-on-demand always held the promise of bespoke, made-to-order apparel,” Johnson says. “Large sections of the textile supply chain still rely on heavy manual labour and when you have a large workforce operating different machines, human error becomes an issue.

“With a purchase-to-production-line solution, a lot of these uncertainties go away and what is designed and visualised is exactly what gets made,” he continues. “This brings predictability and repeatability to what has largely been a manual and cumbersome process for decades.

“On-demand manufacturing reduces wastage. Our [vPersonalize] solution enables a design to be taken directly to a production line in minutes, which makes local manufacturing possible,” Johnson adds.” And with local manufacturing comes reduced reliance on international shipping and the resultant carbon emissions. We have just one planet to leave to future generations and we are getting to a point now where we need everything to be sustainable.”

Outlook

“As more customers start working remotely and with smaller teams, the move to virtual product development, sampling and small-batch production will accelerate. We are focusing on the existing pieces of our technology that can support our customers during a period of social distancing and beyond, using tools that reduce the need for in-person contact like virtual product development, design-to-manufacturing accuracy, automation and online commerce,” says Selvarajan.

“The impact of Covid-19 is unprecedented and there is little by way of data or experience that can help us navigate this. But, we are seeing significant changes to consumer purchasing behavior, perhaps permanently, accelerating towards e-commerce and abandoning physical spaces. While online commerce is recording historic numbers, brick and mortar companies are seeing unprecedented closure”

vPersonalize focuses on apparel brands and manufacturers, helping solve some of the key technical challenges that are specific to them, says Selvarajan. He continues: “In all of this, the common theme will be to help our customers bring designs to market considerably faster and to help them manufacture those products on-demand.”