INESC Porto helps the footwear industry find its feet
“Innovation Dynamics for the Portuguese Footwear Sector” (original title: “Dinâmicas de Inovação do Setor Português do Calçado”) – this is the title of the INESC Porto study commissioned by the Portuguese Footwear, Components, Leather Goods Manufacturers’ Association (APICCAPS). The study concluded that innovation is a fundamental part of the footwear sector’s strategy that when facing market demands allowed it to reinvent itself and become less traditional and more innovative. This distinguishing factor, strengthened by the footwear sector over the years, was supported by INESC Porto and has placed Portugal among the world elite in footwear.
INESC Porto helps build a more competitive and innovative footwear sector
Innovation with a distinguishing factor
As a result of the added pressure coming from competition in upcoming Asian markets during the 90s, cheaper labour force caused many companies with production units in Portugal to move to countries with lower production costs. Along with drastic alterations in consumer patterns, this led to the decline of an industry that had traditionally focused on the production stage.
A study by the Innovation and Technology Transfer Unit (UITT) showed that in order to face this bleak situation, Portuguese footwear companies met the challenges by looking to “uniqueness and product value” and by investing in technology.
By strengthening the production foundations and constantly investing in direct cooperation between R&D partners, the industry was able to adapt to the new market demands. Consequently footwear companies moved away from a production culture and towards a design and marketing culture. This is where the unique factor comes in. With this factor in mind, Portuguese footwear companies looked to flexible production and offering a rapid response instead of mass production of models. The Portuguese footwear industry’s ability to adapt and reinvent itself has made it innovative.
Responding to Market Demands
Over the last two decades and in partnership with the Portuguese Shoe Technological Center (CTCP) and technology suppliers, through the Manufacturing Systems Engineering Unit (UESP), INESC Porto has developed organisation methods, IT systems and equipment that can successfully adapt to the needs of the footwear sector. Increasing speed, meeting orders for limited ranges and investing in own brands were the objectives.
Collaboration between technology user and technology developing companies led to the creation of equipment and solutions that introduced strategies to make Portuguese companies stand out from other foreign companies: “Portugal is the only European country that exports more shoes than it imports”, states Luís Carneiro, the manager of UESP, and INESC Porto’s Research and Development (R&D) study contributed to building this unique competitive capacity.
The pressure to drastically reduce the average size of the order, the diversity and sophistication of the models and the decrease in deadlines in various industrial sectors meant it was not viable to use traditional tools to plan and control production lines. This provoked uncontrolled processes and consequently a loss in productivity. Both national projects SABE (Support Systems for Product Balancing/Scheduling - Sistema de Apoio ao Balanceamento/Escalonamento da produção) which began in 2001 and SIBAP (Automatic Balancing System for Production Lines - Sistema Automático de Balanceamento de Linhas de Produção) which began in 2010 helped to bridge these gaps and provide support tools to balance and schedule production lines. This led to a considerable increase in productivity and created an effective balance between all of the operations that take place on the production line.
Quicker and more flexible production
With the work of its researchers, INESC Porto helped to increase the level of flexibility in production, making manufacturing processes much quicker and the design process easier. SIMULOG (Simulation and operation of internal logistics systems - Simulação e operação de sistemas de Logística interna) is an example of this and the project began in 2007. It is a logistics and simulation project and allows equipment producing companies to identify potential problems in advance and significantly reduce the time and cost of developing and testing the solutions in the facilities of the client companies, thus increasing their competitiveness. It is possible to test the control software with the simulation models developed before the actual system is installed for the client company. This significantly reduces the cost of developing, improving quality and reducing drops in production during the installation phase.
Another example of successful software is Agilplan. The project began in 2009 and consists of a production planning system for footwear companies. The system is more agile and can plan production under uncertain conditions making it different from more traditional systems. It was designed for small and medium sized companies (SMEs) that produce footwear and similar components. The system allows for a smoother development of plans for manufacturing by order scenarios and when the company’s task of developing coherent and up to date plans is even more difficult due to the level of uncertainly and the shortage of information.
The variety of models and materials and the increase in small orders of each model can prove difficult to organise, manage and plan. This tool that was designed and developed in partnership with the Oficina de Soluções company was able to respond to these needs. Agilplan adopts a user friendly interface which is simple to use, incorporating drag and drop techniques and software that automatically readjusts and re-plans production plans when new information becomes available. The proof of the quality of this system can be seen in that fact that it was awarded the ‘Prémios Inovação na Fileira do Calçado’ in the software category in 2010.
A winning investment
The ShoeID solution was developed for FLY London with the aim of improving efficiency in the supply chain. In addition to optimising processes and helping to avoid losses in the logistics chain the solution adds value in store. The innovation is incorporated into a RFID (Radio-Frequency IDentification) Smart Floor; a customer can try on a pair of shoes and look at their own image recorded by a video camera. The image, however, will not show the customer standing in the store itself, but rather in front of busy street scenes in Tokyo, London or New York. This innovation was fundamental in winning the RETA Europe awards, an award that has brought much recognition and relevance for the project and subsequently for INESC Porto.
EUROShoe (automated software in internal logistics between sections, 2003) was the first European project in the area of footwear in which INESC Porto participated and it was part of the first Integrated Projects (IP) experiment that the EU launched later. INESC Porto accumulated a network of contacts within this project. However, it was the CEC-made-shoe (Custom, Environment and Comfort made shoe) that brought a new level of recognition for the sector. INESC Porto participated in three sub projects: PICShoe (integration and coordination system for the supply chain based on workflow technology), Pervasive Quality Control (automatic product quality control and in real time) and the One-step Production Process (a new production system especially oriented towards the production of small orders of customised shoes). INESC Porto coordinated the WorkPackage which was associated with the IT systems.
The One-Step system was one of the most significant results of the CEC-made-shoe project and is really relevant for industry. This was an innovative project because it brought together various operations in one linear sequence. This means that shoes can be produced in just one step (cutting, sewing, assembling and finishing). Beginning with EUROShoe, the One-Step brought together UESP and INESC Porto’s competencies and confirmed their international reputation. Focusing on the production of smaller orders avoids the need for high levels of stock. For small production orders this meant an increase in productivity of 15 percent. It made it possible to produce smaller production lots and increase the production capacity, flexibility and reduce production time. CEC-made-shoe was therefore confirmed as a landmark in Europe’s competitiveness in this area as it introduced radical improvements in the production process and the design of new products. The project led to the development of biodegradable shoes, intelligent shoes (shoes that are able to adapt to the environment) and seamless shoes.
A user based strategy
Looking to own brands and customised production were key factors for the current success of the Portuguese and European footwear industry. What will the future bring? The answer is the development and manufacturing of products that respond to the specific needs of their users. An example of this is the European project FIT4U (Framework of Integrated Technologies for User Centered Products) that began in 2009 and CORENET (Customer-oriented and eco-friendly networks for healthy fashionable goods) that began in 2010, both involving INESC Porto. Project CORENET aimed to supply functional items of high quality, eco-friendly clothing and footwear at a reasonable price. This would cater for many European citizens as well as specific groups such as the elderly, diabetics or individuals suffering from obesity. This project, developed in conjunction with an INESC Porto Spin-off company Tomorrow Options, covered these niche markets and offered them healthy and personalised items.
This is the future – putting the user’s needs at the centre of your strategy. A new project is soon to be developed called NEWALK – Materials, Components and Technology for future footwear. The project aims to develop new materials, functional components and advanced technology to create, produce and commercialise unique footwear. This will be done in an integrated way, sharing synergies and INESC Porto will work in partnership with Flowmat to design approaches and systems that will improve the process of receiving the material and sending it to production when manufacturing small ranges.
Responding to the markets needs, introducing more flexibility, adapting the diverse phases of the footwear manufacturing process and linking them together, making production quicker and introducing unique and customised footwear: INESC Porto has contributed to all of these factors for over two decades and has brought extraordinary advantages for the footwear industry in terms of its competitiveness. According to Luís Carneiro, “the Portuguese footwear industry was able to create added value and access higher market prices because they looked to market segments where fashion, rapid response, quality and brand are essential”. Producing small quantities without neglecting the fashion factor meant they could increase their margin. Having participated in all of these projects and many more that have been mentioned in other issues of the BIP, INESC Porto has helped take Portuguese footwear to a new level of excellence and it is now on average the second most valuable footwear industry in the world after the Italian footwear industry.
Source: BIP 115