By the end of this year, Adidas will be transferring the robotic Speedfactory technology that it has developed in cooperation with Oechsler to two of its Asian footwear suppliers to help increase the flexibility of the design and production process. With production times substantially cut there, Adidas says it will be able to respond faster to changes in fashion and demand.
In due time, the new Speedfactories should be used to make more than just running shoes with short lead times. Meanwhile, Adidas will continue to experiment with new supply chain processes at its own AdiLab in Scheinfeld, Germany. It will also help other suppliers to modernize their manufacturing operations.
Oechlser, a German technology partner involved in medical and automotive applications, had originally set up its two Speedfactories for Adidas in Ansbach, Germany, and Atlanta, Georgia. Their production of athletic shoes will be scaled back and terminated by April 2020 at the latest, and the collaboration with Oechsler will focus thereafter on the production of soles for Adidas’ Boost shoes and football boots, also using 4D printing.
Adidas had first signed a deal with a German engineering firm, Manz, in October 2015, to provide technology for the first factory in Ansbach, which started making Futurecraft shoes in September 2016. Other technological partners have been involved in the project, which has been partly supported by the German government (SGI Europe Vol. 26 N° 35+36 of Oct. 31, 2015). The Atlanta facility in the U.S. went on stream at the end of 2017.
The highly automated process developed in conjunction with Oechsler has created three times faster production time, enabling Adidas to respond more quickly to new trends and shifts in the market. It has also allowed a shift to mass personalization and greater efficiencies while reducing transportation costs by taking the production closer to end consumers.
At this stage, the ability to make small runs of customized shoes and to replenish the inventories of local retailers doesn’t seem to have been a great plus. Adidas has apparently concluded that it will be more effective to work with larger volumes in the Far East.
Indicating that the decision to apply the insights gained from the Speedfactory project to the existing operations of Adidas’ Asian suppliers, coupling this with their know-how and their own advancements, has been dictated by organizational reasons more than financial ones, a spokesperson for the Big a says it will help expand the product range with short production times faster.
Each of the two factories in Germany and the U.S. had a limited production capacity of just over 500,000 pairs per year – a drop in the bucket for a group that sold about 400 million pairs of shoes last year, and an insufficient quantity to apply the technology to a wider range of products.
Like Adidas, which was also considering an in-store manufacturing pilot project, Nike and Under Armour have also been working on projects to take the production process closer to the customer, using 3D printing and other techniques. They have already been applied by some small firms in the non-athletic footwear sector, as reported in Shoe Intelligence, and they may even installed in the customer’s home in the future. Adidas showed some of these technologies in the Ispo Digitize section of the Ispo Munich show early last year (SGI Europe Vol. 29 N° 5+6 of Feb. 10, 2018). Nike is about to start a third Nike Air Manufacturing Innovation facility in Arizona (SGI Europe, Vol. 30 N° 25+26 of Aug. 1, 2019).