Computers in Manufacturing
Computers are used throughout design and making activities in companies. Once computer systems and computerised machinery are in place, they increase efficiency, consistency and accuracy. Time can be saved and modifications made more easily. Production can be closely monitored for quality and safety, and costs reduced due to efficiency. The following list outlines where Computer Assisted Manufacturing (CAM) benefits the manufacturers:
- Pattern design, grading (making different sizes of the pattern) and pattern making can be computer aided.
- Pattern lay plans are worked out using a computer plan. The lay plan ensures that the pattern pieces are laid out close together, in the most efficient way to reduce fabric wastage.
- Digital printing on to fabric is done for sampling and for the full production run.
- Computer controlled weaving looms – designs can be quickly altered on the computer linked to the loom.
- Individual seamless knitted garments can be made from instruction sent by the computer linked to the knitting machine. Knitted fabric designs can be quickly altered on the computer linked to the machine.
- Automatic spreading of fabric and cut out.
- Sewing machines can be programmed to perform tasks such as making buttonholes and attaching pockets.
- Labelling is done as part of product tracking through the production line; the design and making of the garment label may be computerised.
- Monitoring quality
- Fabric warehousing and stock control, using bar codes to enable just-in-time (JIT) stock control
- Production scheduling to monitoring time schedules and flow through the production process
Using Computers in Product Designing
Computers are used by designers for:
- Writing documents and display boards, including artwork, text, spreadsheets, graphs, and tables
- Supplementing drawing and colouring by hand; a quick pencil sketch or detailed painted illustration will often be completed to record ideas and communicate them to others, but the computers will sometimes be more appropriate
- Putting together slide show presentations
- Digital photography and video making
- Designing and sampling
Software Applications used by Designers
Drawing software can be used to design, illustrate and show working drawings. Drawn lines and shapes or photographic images can be imported and edited or scanned to manipulate and develop ideas. Collections with a range of coordinating products can be developed from one initial idea.
With some specialist software, it is possible to get a 3D impression of the design, by rotating the design and seeing it from different viewpoints. The designer can use the computer to simulate draping and shadowing to create a realistic image of the design. Also, ideas for woven fabric designs can be trialled on screen, to see the effect of each different combination of colour and texture.
The designer can present ideas to the client on screen or printed on to presentation boards, or via e-mail, and then quickly modify them according to client feedbacks. Promotional materials developed from design work can be adapted for use on websites, business stationery and advertising and marketing materials, such as Point-Of-Sale (POS) literature and display posters. Computers make this development and related design work a quicker process.
Computers can be used to pass detailed design information to machinery quickly so that samples can be made during the design and development stages, often without the designers even leaving their workstations:
- Designers can use computers to design new fabrics on screen, then show the new fabric in use on a drawn model, on screen or on paper.
- Printed fabric designs developed on the screen can be digitally printed on to actual fabric for sampling
- Embroidered motifs and patterns can be designed on the computer and then stitched directly on to fabric.
A design process that previously took weeks or months can now take less number of hours. The images on colour monitors and those reproduced by colour printers are so realistic that they can be used to present ideas to fashion buyers. In the past, buyers have demanded to see and touch actual sample garments, before deciding to place orders, but with the new computer technology, they now have the confidence to buy from screened or printed presentations.
Researching on Designs
A designer carries out primary research to collect information and inspiration. Looking at what the target market is buying, examining existing products, asking people’s opinions and collecting pictures and samples are all second nature to the designer. A digital camera is an essential research tool; photos can be taken in shops, at exhibitions on the street – anywhere that will help give design inspiration.
Questionnaires can be designed to collect specific types of data. Open questions will be more difficult to answer by the respondent; data provided will be difficult to analyse as long sentences may be written, but answers may be very informative. Closed questions, where a choice of expected answers is given for the respondent to circle or tick, may get more results, as this style of question is easier to answer. Questionnaires can be printed or e-mailed to specific people.
The internet is the main source of research already put together by others. A designer can use search engines to find websites, images and videos that will broaden ideas and give a very wide choice of written and visual material to work from. Company websites, magazines, and newspaper articles, TV broadcasts online and even blogs can give such valuable information. The internet is immediate, easy to update and accessible, perhaps making travel and conversation to find out information unnecessary. However, there is no guarantee that the information found on the internet is either valid or honest. Traditionally books, journals and catalogues have provided published material that is verified.
Databases and Graphs
Although designers can buy materials from online resource libraries, they usually also set up their own reference collection of photos and designs. Storage on computer hard disks may be quickly filled, so CD-ROMs may be used to store the library files.
Data can be presented using spreadsheets with graphs produced to analyse results. These can help to evaluate the research by providing visual impressions of the results.