Monday, June 7, 2010

Automation in the Design Industry

So this past week, I have been hired to work full-time first shift at an industrial design/manufacturing company. They do large scale jobs mostly and working there has really changed my mind about both where the textile industry is headed as a whole and how far apart the home seamstress is from a successful industrial seamstress these days. The biggest differences are not the sewing machine. Many of the professional seamstresses and design students I know in college these days still use dress forms, painstakingly grade patterns, and cut it all out by hand.

Industrial companies.....don't. And they save a lot of time and energy doing so. The two biggest differences are in terms of using CAD software to store and design patterns and auto cutting machines which take the designs directly from the computer and cut them out into pieces on the table. This allows one operator to cut and create 3-4 times faster according to them and the quality is consistent every time. I actually think that the biggest difference is that design to finish product can be done in a 1 day- 2 weeks instead of the typical 18-24 months in the industry today. This is the single biggest gain no one seems to realize in terms of reducing lead product design to product time. Also CAD programs can be scaled and changed quickly with a few clicks of a button. This eliminates the TEDIOUS draping, forming, and marking that makes pattern designing a multi-hour or day long process for me personally.

And by working smarter, not just harder, they've managed to create a good working environment with good wages, benefits, and still turn a decent profit. I think it's a lesson for the rest of us in America. If we want to be making $20-30 hr., we need not to be whining about how people need to pay us more, but actively be figuring out ways to cut costs and increase productivity.

And the bottomline for me watching everything is that being tech savy is the way to go. Because good technology changes the work flow, not just tweaks productivity. I think it's far too easy to keep trying to get better at one's craft and getting slightly better at using one's time. It's far harder and more necessary to learn new ways of doing things that change the ACTUAL order of magnitude for the way things are done. If you haven't see an industrial cutter before, you can watch this youtube video here: It's a generation or two behind what we are actually using at work, but it gives you a good idea of the basics.

Next week, my favorite CAD designs on the market right now for textiles.

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