effort will involve research on the uses of VE technology (Hall and Walsh, 1993).
The U.S. textile industry, which includes fiber producers, textile weavers, apparel makers, and retailers, employs over 1 million workers (10 percent of the manufacturing work force in the United States) and includes 26,000 companies. It is the largest producer of nondurable goods, experiences annual consumer sales of approximately $200 billion, and contributes $53 billion to the U.S. gross national product (Hall and Walsh, 1993; Steward, 1993). Each year the industry fails to realize revenues of approximately $25 billion due to inventory markdowns and liquidation.
Most companies are small, with profit margins of 2 percent or less, and so are not in a position to conduct or support research. Almost all the research in the industry is conducted by five large research centers based in universities and jointly funded by industry and government. One of these centers, the Apparel CIM Center, was established in 1988 with the goals of removing barriers to adopting proven CIM technology, establishing CIM standards, providing assistance to state industry, and conducting broad-based research and development to keep the industry competitive.
The primary charge of the Apparel CIM Center is to investigate applications of VE to clothing as seen, examined, and purchased by the retail customer. A second charge is to apply VE technology to represent the internal view of a textile manufacturing plant, including the position of machines, the air conditioning, the noise level, and the lighting. The goal of the project is to facilitate the reorganization of a manufacturing plant by providing engineers and factory workers with the ability to walk through a virtual plant; to move machines around on the basis of requirements to produce new lines of apparel (seasonal changes); to examine spacing, lighting, and noise to ensure good human factors practices; and to assess the effects of various equipment configurations on work flow.
Technology Requirements The technology required for implementing the internal plant layout includes: (1) building an object database of all equipment needed in the plant, (2) creating the capability to determine light and ventilation, (3) providing noise levels based on the combination and spacing of machines, (4) matching lighting requirements and noise levels against federal requirements, (5) integrating new software capabilities with existing simulations of work flow through the plant for manufacturing different products, and (6) developing an interface for engineers that is easy to use and acceptable. According to Steward (1993), all of these activities are under way. There are many technologies, including VE, contributing to this application—some existing and some in development. As these activities evolve, there will be a need for VE technology to rely on and interface with other developing information technologies.