3 Questions for Daniel Harari
CEO of Lectra
Founded around 50 years ago, the Lectra Group’s unique offer includes connected cutting equipment, software and data analytics solutions. In addition, Lectra’s associated services bring more agility and efficiency to each step of the manufacturing process – from design to production – especially for the fashion industry. Lectra’s CEO Daniel Harari is a keen observer of the evolutions in that market and the impact of new technologies. In the following interview, he shares his thoughts on the state of our industry today as well as the upcoming changes.
What are the evolutions in the global apparel markets?
I believe we are at a crossroads and that in the years to come there will be winners and losers. Apparel businesses that chose offshore sourcing, particularly in Asia, to keep costs low are going to have a hard time. The fact is that there’s not another China. The country handles 45% of the world’s apparel manufacturing. Vietnam, which is next in line, accounts for only 7% and is operating at full capacity. That makes China irreplaceable, but it’s closing its doors. Its domestic market is growing and, at the same time, its rates are rising. From now on, when a brand wants to negotiate with its Chinese subcontractor, it won’t have any leverage, since the supplier earns more by selling locally. Clothing will still be made in China, but prices will rise. So, the situation is changing, and industry business that chose to source closer to home and who have developed a brand image and a reputation for quality or that set up a multichannel system combining a store network with online sales will have an advantage.
What are Lectra’s solutions for meeting the crisis?
Our current solutions are essentially green. Our objective is to reduce material use, which helps control costs and CO2 consumption. The process starts with replacing physical prototypes with virtual ones, which has the added advantage of avoiding shipping costs. Optimising fabric use also happens thanks to our software which can organise production and adapt cutting plans for the best possible placement. On average, this results in 10% to 20% less scraps, or a reduction of 2 to 4% of materials used and 10 to 20% less waste. We’ve taken the idea of an optimisation method that combines savings and green practices and pushed it to the extreme.
Another mission is to shift the sector to an on-demand manufacturing model, meaning manufacturing only when orders are placed. That could be orders from consumers for made-to-measure or personalised items, but that’s not all. B2B companies are also concerned and can manufacture only when they get firm orders from their retailers and distribution network. Our manufacturing turnaround times are very short, so businesses can respond quickly. That’s good for cash flow and eliminates unsold goods. Our technologies in this area are very efficient. We put them on the market in 2018, and since then we have constantly worked to perfect them. For the 2018 launch, our R&D investments totalled €20 million, and today that figure is €30 million.
Artificial intelligence, the metaverse, data … how do you think our industries will move into a 4.0 world?
In 2017, after two years of in-depth studies, we decided to become a major player in industry 4.0 with software and connected equipment. The industry 4.0 concept started in Germany as a way to describe the industry of the future. The term encompasses everything that happens, from the design office to the point of sales and including, of course, the factory that plays a central role and can accommodate the desires of all the participants. At Lectra, industry 4.0’s growth is especially evident in the use of new technologies like the Internet of things. Our connected cutting equipment is an example. We integrated sensors in our equipment 15 years ago, and today we have 7,600 connected cutting systems around the world. The sensors analyse a fabric’s characteristics, which are generally predictable, and then give instructions in real time to the machine’s brain on how to adapt the cutting layout. They also communicate information (big data) to our expertise centres. In this way we collect a lot of data which we analyse to carry out preventative maintenance, to help our clients optimise their production and to further develop our products and offers. Here again, we make full use of artificial intelligence, which, for five years has been our overarching guide for development. I believe that in 2030 industry 4.0 will be a powerful reality for the fashion sector, which is not as advanced as the automotive industry (a market that accounts for a significant part of our activity). Once it’s completely established, industry 4.0 will help protect the fashion sector by reducing risks, particularly those linked to manufacturing cycles.
For the metaverse, I’m more sceptical. I compare it to 3D printing, which got a lot of attention in the fashion industry a few years ago. The results were interesting to use in fashion shows, but in reality the clothing was impossible to commercialise, since it was much too heavy. There’s a lot of excitement about the metaverse and NFTs, and the phenomenon hasn’t peaked yet. When that happens, there will be a drop, the financial bubbles will burst and there will be a kind of disappointment and distancing. That will allow these technologies to evolve at more measured pace, removed from any speculation. And in ten years or so, they’ll be more refined and better targeted. To summarize, I don’t think the metaverse is essential today, but it certainly will be in the far future.