Deckers Brands adopted PTC’s FlexPLM solution more than eight years ago, after canvassing the market for the right solution to replace a chaotic mixture of spreadsheets, emails, and other disconnected solutions. Today, the company uses FlexPLM as a single, unified solution for all the planning, design, development and sourcing of their products across five different fashion and performance footwear brands: UGG, HOKA ONE ONE, Koolaburra, Teva, and Sanuk.
In the last three years, Deckers has made significant strides in integrating PLM to 3D for the purposes of digital footwear creation, recently using PTC’s Thingworx Retail Connector to seamlessly share data between FlexPLM and RomansCAD PDM. This initiative has already allowed the company to reduce the time, cost, and material consumption of its processes, allowing Deckers to move closer to the market and factor customer insights into its design and development cycle.
To talk about Deckers’ vision for integrated 3D and PLM, and to understand how the company is building the future of footwear design and development, we sat down with Mitch Harvey, Deckers’ 3D Innovation Manager. Before joining Deckers, Mitch worked as a 3D footwear designer in the UK for eight years, giving him some unique insights into how creating footwear digitally can help product teams to rapidly visualize, refine, and communicate their concepts to internal teams and manufacturing partners.
One of the biggest factors in the time and cost of our product design and development was a lack of automation. Before integrating PLM and 3D, it could take us thousands of hours to manually enter product specifications, and it was usually weeks before we could see a prototype and fully understand our costs.
Our vision was to solve this problem with a holistic approach that encompassed PLM, internet of things (IoT) and of course 3D. So we set out to build a completely digital creation pipeline, where our brands could search for and download material data and images from our suppliers, use these materials directly on 3D shoe models built in RomansCAD PDM, and then generate a bill of materials and pre-costing estimate that would automatically be added to FlexPLM for publishing our technical specification to our partner factories.
We’ve made some significant progress towards that vision, and I believe the time we have already been able to save has been transformative for the lives of the designers and technical teams working in our different brands.
We already had both FlexPLM and RomansCAD fully implemented at Deckers and we had realized big benefits from working in both of those solutions, but the crucial next step was to integrate them so that data could be automatically transferred back and forth. We have reached this stage, and FlexPLM can now transfer material data to RomansCAD so that our product teams can apply those digital materials and attributes onto individual shoe components, and get live feedback on the usage and cost implications of their individual decisions.
This also has real value at the whole-product level, because RomansCAD can use this material information (price and surface area) to provide a material cost estimate for the entire shoe. This extends the value of 3D beyond being a tool for visualization, because the data can automatically populate FlexPLM in return, and our creative and technical teams can use it to make better informed decisions.
Although we currently have a seamless flow of information between 3D and PLM, we’re now looking at new ways to bring material data into our systems to begin with. Right now, our materials team works tirelessly with our suppliers every season to gather data for new materials, and input it into PLM, ready to use. But with the creation of the Material Exchange platform, suppliers now have a secure location where they can upload their material data and make it accessible to all of their customers, without needing to work independently with each one. This represents a huge opportunity for Deckers, because we plan to integrate the Material Exchange (or ME as we call it for short) with FlexPLM – again using PTC’s ThingWorx Retail Connector – so that all essential material information will populate the appropriate fields in FlexPLM automatically.
It’s important to remember that the ME is a new concept, and there is likely to be an acclimatization period for suppliers. For footwear and apparel brands, the value of having an online, all-digital material library is obvious, but we will need to advocate for that value and persuade our suppliers of the benefits that exist for them, if we’re going to encourage them to change their long-standing processes. Any other business that shares Deckers’ vision will want to showcase the potential for their suppliers to gain greater visibility into the material requirements of the different partners they work with, and the value of replacing physical swatches and email threads with a single channel of communication that they can use to collaborate with customers.
I feel that all of the technology involved has reached a point where the benefits are clear, and where the user experience is welcoming enough that almost anyone can work with. But even with that in mind, I believe full adoption from all sides – brand and supplier – is going to take time. Whether you’re a designer, a developer, or a factory manager, changing old processes is something that takes time, and of course you have the added difficulty that the old processes are so time-consuming, you don’t have any spare time to begin with! I think everyone involved in the footwear and apparel value chain understands that moving from a manual to a digital process will save both time and money in the long run, but the key will be to start small and increase over time, rather than attempting to change too much at once.
While integrating the two solutions was obviously the first major step, our project actually started around five months earlier, when Deckers partnered with PTC to quantify and map all our existing material data using PTC’s ThingWorx Retail Connector. Without that step, and without a reliable partner like PTC, we might never have been able to connect the flow of data between our PLM and 3D/PDM systems – or at least not without investing in hiring a team of experts that knew both systems inside out.
Luckily, for companies who want to walk the same path, the fact that we used PTC’s ThingWorx Retail Connector to bridge FlexPLM and RomansCAD PDM means that other brands and retailers now have an out-of-the-box solution for sharing data between those two platforms.