PLM systems don't handle color well..

At least not in the industries where precise color comparisons really matter – most obviously in the apparel industry where different components (fabrics, buttons, zips, etc) are produced from different raw materials in different countries, then colored using different dye systems in further different locations and then finally assembled into a garment in yet another factory BUT still need to all appear the same color to a discerning consumer in fluorescent shop lighting, outdoor sun, indoor LED lights and so on. The human vision system is fairly awful at measuring absolute color (how could it not be, when “color” is mostly a transient sensation in the brain, like happiness) but it is amazingly good at spotting truly tiny differences in color between adjacent items, so the apparel industry color challenge is a truly major one.

Apparel makers manage this challenge in theory by the use of spectrophotometer measurements to precisely compare the reflectance curves that such "spectros" output, and in practice by in parallel flying thousands, of samples around the globe to allow colorists to also make the visual decisions that can be go or no-go for fabric supply mills and similar. 

but then they don't need to..

The color approval process is complex, time-consuming and almost continuous (each new bulk lot of a re-order should be checked too, for example, sometimes each roll). The initial "lab-dip" approval process in particular can not only take several weeks and many rounds of submits before approval is won but it can also be very unpredictable in its duration and can often become a critical path item for a whole new product launch. 

So PLM systems can not leave out the color approval process when managing timelines, and PLM users in color critical industries also like to be able to see, within PLM, the colors that are such an important feature of the components and products being developed. The author is not aware of any PLM system that directly handles reflectance measurements, without which a color approval process can not be managed properly, and from which the color slabs required to at least indicate component color (under a chosen light source) can be calculated. How can PLM software include these key elements without getting involved with the details of spectros, illuminant choices, metamerism, DE tolerance, best-can-do approvals and the like ?

just link to systems that do..

Online applications that use reflectance measurements to handle color library search, palette development, lab dip and bulk fabric approval are already in use by colorists for many major apparel brands... Colourmart Software has been developing and delivering them for over a decade for example, usually in partnership with Color Solutions International, the leading provider of physical and digital standards to the apparel industry. Such systems are best left to be run by colorists, but there are two areas where they need to interface with PLM systems:

  • palette synchronisation.. whenever a designer or colorist adds a color to a seasonal palette, or creates a new palette, the PLM needs to be updated with the full details of the palette or color added, including RGB or similar values under the users chosen light source for showing colors in PLM. In some cases there may need to be information on palette editing provided back to the color software
  • lab dip approval.. the PLM needs to be updated on the status of such approvals ( 2nd round failed, awaiting third, for example, or just in progress and then approved). In certain cases the PLM may need updates on first bulk approvals as well, depending on how far into production processes it goes.
Making such links is not complicated.. at Colourmart Ssoftware we have done this in ways ranging from a simple manually triggered export of excel files for import by PLM, through automating that progress daily using FTP transfer to full two way web service links - all are available. 

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So it is not difficult for PLM systems to include the vital color approval processes, just surprising that so few do it properly... For anyone wanting to see what those processes typically are, an easy way is to register for free at palettemanager.com, skim through the demo video and then experiment with the functions..