Achieving design excellence through knowledge sharing
Major Asian softlines-accessories supplier achieves success in keenly competitive market by improving efficiency and quality – from request to production – using Teamcenter
Specializing in softlines accessories
The softlines industry has achieved an excellent reputation and outstanding success in Asia. Early organizations in the region focused on garments and garment accessories. Most manufacturers and distributors have now extended their lines to include the broader range of products referred to as softlines and softlines accessories. Moreover, their abilities in design and production have enabled exceptional business opportunities around the world. Button International, with its headquarters in Taiwan, is one of the best players in this industry.
Button International entered the garment business by making garment accessories, which is why “button” was used as the company’s name. Established by four textile veterans in 1994, Button International is now one of the largest suppliers of softlines accessories in Asia.
Fifteen years of active expansion has enabled the company to continually improve its research and development (R&D), design and manufacturing abilities, as well as to employ leading designers, equipment engineers and mold engineers. Its products include buttons, snaps, zipper pulls, stoppers and buckles. The company makes use of plastic, metal and environmentally friendly materials to develop its fashionable fasteners, and its creativity has earned the company dozens of patents.
Softlines accessories are typically considered to be functional and sometimes decorative materials for clothing or bags, such as fasteners on shirts, slacks, dresses, totes, purses, packs and wallets, as well as functional and decorative materials for items such as pillows, bedding, curtains, etc. As international brand buyers tend to purchase from only two or three softlinesaccessories suppliers, competition is very fierce. Failure to meet the latest trends can result in a considerable loss of business.
Innovation – key to winning contracts
Suppliers of softlines accessories not only make fasteners designed by their branded clients, but they also show their own new designs at international apparel shows in Salt Lake City and Munich for clients to choose from. It is not uncommon for a branded client’s designers to incorporate the supplier’s design – typically driven by the show’s annual theme – into the final draft. Once approved, the client then asks the supplier to manufacture the products requested.
In other words, a softlines-accessories supplier can effectively increase new business from “the sale of innovation,” with profitability lying in the supplier’s competence relative to customization and control of production costs. In fact, the timeframe between the receipt of order and mass production is usually quite short. A softlines-accessories supplier must carry out the tasks efficiently. Any misstep in the exchange of design information will cause monetary losses.
Button International considers “a smooth and precise flow of information” the key to its competitiveness. Therefore, in 2008, the company introduced Teamcenter® digital lifecycle management software from Siemens PLM Software to enhance its workflow efficiency and overall design quality. Teamcenter’s engineering process management strengths were instrumental in the decision.
“We wanted an efficient information management system to solve some prevalent problems, such as the difficulty in finding valuable information for reuse and losing information due to personnel changes,” says Carl Chen, Button International’s head of Graphic Design. “Teamcenter’s enterprise process management capabilities thoroughly met our requirements. Teamcenter keeps an electronic record of every step in the workflow, from the initiation, change and finalization of a design to actual production.”
Teamcenter transformed a data retrieval issue into streamlined knowledge sharing. For example, sometimes Button International’s clients may choose an old design rather than the latest offering. Chen points out, “When the sales department notifies us of such a request, we must find the original draft and make changes according to the customer’s needs. Before we had Teamcenter, we could not be certain that the design in our catalogue was the same as the one in our system. Now that we have Teamcenter, we no longer need to worry about the consistency between the catalogues and the system and can truly focus on designing.”
To save the cost of moving the old database and to ensure the accuracy of the Teamcenter system, Button International adopted what it refers to as a “separate management strategy.” New designs are stored and managed in the new product lifecycle management (PLM) system, while prior designs are retained in the legacy filing system. In time, most designs are expected to be leveraged solely from Teamcenter.
Precise data, immediate access – key to faster design process
Teamcenter not only digitalizes information, but it also enables Button International to easily improve its business processes. For example, the sales department used to communicate a client’s requirements via email. However, emails are not the most effective tool for precise communication, especially when it comes to making design changes. If the change is not interpreted correctly by the design department, errors may occur in the next step of the workflow, and therefore in subsequent steps as well. Ultimately, the product is made from inaccurate information, and thus fails to meet customer needs.
Now such fatal errors no longer exist. All new design information is stored and managed in Teamcenter’s database, with a clear record of the person who inputs design specifications, proposes and executes changes, approves a draft and so on. Every task can be traced to the person accountable, improving accuracy and integrity.
Chen says, “In the beginning, of course, it took a bit of time for the staff to get used to the new system.” While employee concerns about adapting to a new way of doing things is typical, he notes, “We’ve found that our people are now more cautious when inputting data and more scrupulous about details, which significantly cuts down on human errors. Inaccuracies, or physical errors, estimated to once be 50 percent, are now down to about 10 percent, maybe even less.”
Button International has also made huge improvements in managing project schedules. Chen acknowledges that such improvements are now prevalent throughout the company. “Using Teamcenter, our design and R&D workflow are much smoother, and we are able to find the information we need instantly. The average timeframe for a design project has been dramatically reduced. What used to take two to three days to complete, now takes only about two hours.”
Easy tracking, environmentally friendly
Teamcenter provides a collaborative, web-based interface, which is shared by project members to update and follow the latest progress of a project. Chen explains, “With the centralized management of information, users can easily follow the progress of a product and ask the system to automatically inform relevant staff of any changes made; executives also use the system to follow a project in a timely fashion.”
In addition, digital data for managing workflow lowers the use of paper. Chen notes, “By default, Teamcenter is environmentally friendly, helping to save natural resources.”
Compatibility across CAD
Button International uses NX™ software and other CAD systems to design new products. Teamcenter supports multiple CAD technologies, allowing designers and engineers to directly open graphic files, which is timesaving and efficient for the users. Chen notes, “High compatibility with multi-CAD software is one of our favorite qualities of Teamcenter. Many similar products have poorer performance relative to compatibility.”
Next step: Integrating PLM and ERP
Button International’s management has been planning the next steps for the company’s technology evolution. Now that the company’s digital design and data management systems, or PLM systems, are in place, the next objective is to leverage its PLM technology relative to ERP in order to further extend its digital product information management capabilities.
“Every prototype has a project code in the Teamcenter system, whether or not it goes into production,” says Chen. “But only mass-produced products have a product code in Teamcenter. Therefore, when the sales department wants a design that’s never gone into production, they won’t be able to find it in the ERP system, which is the primary tool they use for such information gathering.” Button International’s management feels a “draft-based” search tool represents a better way to secure a broader base of information. Integrating its PLM and ERP technologies would yield a more nimble exchange of information for all users. More importantly, such integration would help Button International promote its brand and sustain its growth in the highly competitive global softlines accessories market, where the company continues to thrive.