Gerber Technology, known for its innovative drive, continued to push the envelope when it opened its Innovation Center in New York City in 2019. We interviewed Leonard Marano, Chief Commercial Officer at Gerber Technology, to learn a little more about the Innovation Center and what Gerber Technology is working on now in the midst of a global pandemic.
What inspired the creation of the Gerber Technology Innovation Center?
LM: The Innovation Center was created so that our customers and prospects could have a place to experience the most innovative technology. We also wanted it to serve as a place of inspiration and collaboration for brand designers and manufacturers. A place where they can use the latest tools to create the next generation of apparel, home furnishings, or other textile goods. Obviously, with Covid-19, the collaboration piece has taken a bit of a different path, but, at the end of July, we reopened the Innovation Center for virtual demonstrations until we can officially reopen for in-person visits.
What are some of the Innovation Center features offered to the community? And what’s your favorite offering?
LM: In our large and open meeting areas, customers can access the latest in 2D/3D CAD technology and the most innovative product planning and production tools. All of the rooms are equipped with the latest in audio/visual technology so collaboration is easy and seamless. As cool as that is, and as beautiful as the balcony gathering is, my favorite feature is the full, end-to-end microfactory we’ve set up. Many in the industry are talking about on-demand, fully automated manufacturing but this really brings it to life. Visitors to the Innovation Center can order a custom fitted garment on an iPad and leave wearing it in less than an hour.
The Innovation Center is also a place to showcase our awesome partners. In addition to Gerber’s AccuMark software and GERBERcutter Z1, the printing is done with Kornit Digital’s latest direct to garment printer, the Presto, and all sewing is performed using Henderson Sewing’s latest Industry 4.0 equipment.
How has the Innovation Center inspired young innovators in NYC and surrounding community? Any specific examples?
LM: Being in Manhattan with so many great fashion schools, we have essentially an open door policy when it comes to students using our tools. Our relationship with students in the area started with the student fashion competition at our grand opening at our Ideation event 2019.
Prior to Covid-19, We had many student tours of the Innovation Center from as close as a few blocks away (Fashion Institute of Technology) to as far away as Amsterdam (The Jean School). The students were overwhelmingly excited by the possibilities provided by the technology presented. Several students utilized the unique capabilities of digital printing of textiles and the automated cutting to create their designs for their capstone projects this Spring.
Designers NaomiNomi and Rubin Singer both responded to the desperate need for “civilian level” masks in response to the pandemic by having hundreds of masks cut at the GT Innovation Center and sewn in local NYC factories. These masks have helped meet the demand for everyone to help protect each other by wearing masks whenever we’re out in public spaces or around others.
Gerber Technology has been at the forefront of the sewn product industry’s pivot to personal protective equipment (PPE) production over the past few months. How have you leveraged technology to further the industry in the development of PPE?
LM: The real beauty about converting to PPE production is that many producers in the U.S. were able to do it with technologies they already had. Our main focus was helping them optimize their supply chain for various types of PPE, whether it was gowns, masks, face shields, or something else. We started by offering tech packs and patterns that were graded and optimized for efficient production, produced quality parts, reduced waste, and did it quickly.
We know that no two materials react the same way in production, so we also started providing spread and cutting parameters to make sure the equipment would operate at peak performance across a broad PPE material range.
As customers converted or looked to increase capacity to produce PPE, we also got to leverage our GERBERconnect Industry 4.0 based platform. While we did have field engineers traveling where they could safely do so, with GERBERconnect we were able to optimize machines, conduct training, and in some cases, walk customers through maintenance or even installations remotely. We saw a drastic increase in customers looking to get connected and Industry 4.0 enabled over the last three months, and we believe that acceleration is here to stay.
With increases in automation, robotics, and digital supply chains, it feels as though the sewn products industry is currently in the middle of a technological renaissance. What do you think have been the driving factors of this renaissance? And what do you think will cause the next disruption in the industry?
LM: Prior to Covid-19 you kept hearing producers talk about the rising cost or inability to find consistent labor which would be natural fuel for a shift to automation. You also heard the need for more sustainability in the industry across the entire flexible material value stream. Not only is sustainability a noble worldwide initiative, but, if done correctly, it can have a meaningful, positive impact to the bottom line. These themes aren’t going away, and once the Covid-19 dust settles, you will see major brands and manufacturers realize they can’t do things the way they had been and have a profitable business. As companies look to reevaluate their businesses, there are five areas that I believe most will focus on:
1. E-commerce – At least some of the huge acceleration in shifting to e-comm caused by Covid-19 will be here to stay. How do companies take advantage of these remote interactions?
2. The Reconfiguration of Manufacturing Geographies – Covid-19 combined with trade uncertainty, lead times, and rising costs will have brands and vertically-integrated manufacturers identifying geographic areas of opportunity, whether its nearshoring, reshoring, or chasing lower labor.
3. Shorter Run Production – Whether it’s fueled by more localized manufacturing, or by a drop in consumer spending, manufacturers will need to produce less at a time. We used to look at shorter runs as a result of so many fashion seasons or because of the ideal order quantity of one. While personalization will drive some of the shift, mass production will still always exist but order sizes may be a little less massive.
4. Supply Chain Visibility – Having visibility throughout the supply chain ensures sustainable business practices, but also allows companies to be more responsive and resilient to changing market conditions. To get better visibility, brands and producers will need to think about how they will manage their data differently, and what they need to do throughout their development and production work streams to use it most effectively.
5. Bankruptcy, Restructuring, and Industry Consolidation – Those in the industries we serve, particularly apparel, are going to look at how they participate in a new global marketplace. Companies that 5 years ago you’d never imagine going bankrupt are drastically restructuring or going out of business. The rippling impact across the supply chain has yet to be fully seen, but again, once the dust settles things will look different.