The EMB file
The next big invention was Stitch Processing for which Wilcom secured a ‘hotly contested’ patent in 1985. “We figured out a method of how to be able to read the stitches of an existing design and figure out what the designer’s intentions were, what the shapes were and the stitch types, and then recreate it. So you could re-size the design and maintain the original density. We invented a technique to do that and called it the Stitch Processor, which was a play on Word Processor, which were all the rage at the time.
Then we implemented a new system, which we call our all-in-one EMB file, where you can save the shapes, the stitches, object properties, colours, artwork – everything- on one file. The EMB was a watershed moment.”
Wilcom then created TrueSizer, a free program that allows those who don’t have the Wilcom software to still be able to scale and convert the stitch files. “That sort of made [EMB] a factory standard,” explains Bill. “A bit like Microsoft .doc files. It’s not quite as predominant as that one, but it comes close.”
One of the biggest focuses for the company, however, has been getting the stitching quality right. As Bill explains, “You can have a really expensive, really good quality embroidery machine and if you give it a poor design it’s going to make the machine look bad.”
The difference these innovations have made to the industry as a whole is huge. As the software began to take hold, existing businesses grew, says Bill, adding: “I’ve had quite a few people tell me because they were using old equipment, the younger generation wasn’t so interested in the family business. But when computers came along they got interested again.” The big game changer, however, was the opening up of the industry. “We made it possible for new people to come into the industry much more easily. There’s still a fair bit to learn but its learnable now.”
Another change brought about by the software is that many more designs are now being made. “You can even get a custom design done for a quantity of one in some places now, ” says Bill. “It just made embroidery a lot more accessible to people”.
As for the future, even though Robert, who is eight years older than Bill, has retired, Bill is not showing any signs of wanting to stop innovating. Ask him what’s left to do and he reels out a list: “doing things more automated to take less time, coming up with creative stitching effects that are easy to use and more realistic- Colours, Shading. Working more effectively. We get good feedback from customers along with suggestions but big breakthroughs come when people describe their problems and have no idea how to solve them. One of my favorite quotes is from Henry Ford: ’If I had listened to the people and did what they wanted me to do, I would have invented a faster horse’.
I’ve been doing this for 36 years and I’m still enthusiastic about it. It’s just so encouraging to see how enthusiastic customers are because you’ve helped them in their business. I get a buzz out of that.”