Ever since the fashion industry began its journey with technology (with PDM and later PLM), the major focus has been on what we call the Bill of Materials (BOM), which is a critical part of the next step into sourcing, costing and ultimately the manufacturing process. And ever since the fashion industry went offshore, designers, developers, garment technologists, and materials and colour teams have all worked together to ensure that every detail of the BOM has been carefully considered and checked before handing off to the manufacturers. Obviously, every business and business type will have different needs and methods to bring the final approved BOM to their value-chain partners.
If we look at where we are today, it’s no longer enough to design, develop and hand off the BOM to the manufacturers. Today, it’s more about how we mature that BOM and extend its capabilities to become a Bill of Process (BOP). [You can read around the term ‘BOP’ in Mark Harrop’s recent article, here.] The world is changing very quickly, and one of the new drivers of that change is for companies to calculate net-zero sustainability and environmental targets. It’s simply no longer enough to share a design specification along with the BOM and expect to be able to obtain all the answers to the challenge of collecting and measuring your sustainability impact data.
The only way to achieve this goal is for businesses to extend their PLM modules and embrace the new extension of the BOM that will help drive the BOP. Only then will companies be able to calculate their CO2 measurements, water savings, and impact analysis based upon a generic supplier type. Following this internal process, brands and retailers will be able to go to market with their new designs, calculating the actual BOM, together with the BOP, with specific suppliers. It’s important to keep in mind that their value-chain partners, located in different geographies, will each have their own unique machinery types, methods, processes, energy, water costs, etc. So, to increase the accuracy of the BOP, your PLM solution will need to be integrated closely with your vendors, at tier 1, 2, and 3 as a minimum.
Linking the bill of materials to the bill of the process is not only important as a method of calculating your sustainability & environmental impact but also a crucial strategy for any business that is legally required to calculate its sustainability and environmental impact. The efforts involved in designing, acquiring and building such datasets should not be underestimated. There is no “one size fits all”: you will need generic (high-level) datasets, and to get to the granular level of accuracy, you will need to obtain data at an individual level, supplier by supplier. Only then will fashion brands and retailers be able to measure their impact.
Without this level of detailed data, sustainability impact level measurements can only be based upon high-level assumptions and rough estimates. It’s also important to keep in mind that the BOM, together with the BOL, are equally important from a financial perspective, as it provides clarity of the associated costs. It also details how products are constructed and enable internal teams from brands and retailers to learn and try out different methods of manufacture, all the time linked to the effects these decisions have on the sustainability and environmental impact measurements. Without this level of detail, the design and development of products can only be measured at a very high level. And will come with increased assumptions, data errors, unmeasured waste, and manufacturing inefficiencies.
On the other hand, by connecting the BOM to the BOP to arrive at the BOL (in that order), enables the entire value-chain to easily see any issues early in the design and development stage and, for the first time, it will enable each of the businesses to share data that can be used by each partner to help calculate their CO2 impact measurements.
Transparency and control
Working together with each of the value-chain partners, businesses will understand exactly what it takes to build a sustainable product, and manufacturers will be able to calculate the CO2 impact and water-saving and share the data upstream and downstream with each of their value-chain partners.
Other benefits will include enhanced production planning. Connecting the BOM to the BOP, and then onto the BOL, not only will we have sight of an accurate ‘sustainable’ bill of materials, but we will also understand the most ‘sustainable’ methods of manufacture leading to a fair and accurate labour cost.
Moving forward, all PLM software solutions must start to work on advancing their Bill of Materials, to add the BOP and BOL. Unifying each of these unique processes will allow fashion businesses for the first time to complete and calculate all activity within a single shared platform.
PLM’s BOM linked to a sustainability-based BOP solution informs what needs to be designed and adopted. And whether what we are going to manufacture is sustainable. So it is an estimated impact analysis on what we are going to do. This helps in the product getting selected in a collection.
However, at a later stage, if ERP is also integrated and feeds into BOP, we can capture what was manufactured, where it was manufactured, and how it was manufactured to have actual impact analysis and dynamic traceability.