Advances in the production of sports-related gear appear to have suddenly accelerated in the last two years. But the Manufacturers' Forum organized for the fourth time by the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry (WFSGI) next month will be discussing even more advanced concepts, involving large amounts of data as well as robotics, intelligent apparel and footwear.
The forum will take place for two days from Nov. 15 in Taichung, the Taiwanese city that is home to the headquarters of the Pou Chen Group, along with some of the leading Taiwanese bicycle and fitness equipment makers. High-tech innovation, digitalization and robotics are on the program, with buzzwords such as Industry 4.0, the Internet of Things and Big Data analytics. The forum will also include a visit to the factory of Mobiletron, which specializes in automotive electronics.
Speakers will discuss the opportunities afforded by automation, and strategies to handle it most efficiently. Tyler Lyman, chief executive of Micro Benefits, will thus focus on ways to make sure that factories retain staff with the right skillset when they go through an automation process. Micro Benefits has been supporting Nike footwear suppliers to go through such transitions, for example.
When automating their production lines, suppliers often bring in new staff who have no connection with the business, at a higher cost and with lower loyalty. Instead, Micro Benefits wants to engage the existing workers in the transition, identify opportunities for some of them in the new setup and then create pathways for them to acquire new skills, potentially with mobile training programs.
Beyond the process of automation in production plants, the forum will also discuss digitalization of sports products. A new player in the intelligent apparel market is Clim8, working on technology that enables apparel to track the wearer's activity and keeps him or her at an optimal temperature all day long, in any weather conditions. It works with tiny sensors that are integrated directly into the yarns which will then track various factors and respond accordingly, potentially turning on integrated heating pads.
The company was started this year and is headed by Florian Miguet, who previously managed the Salewa and Dynafit brands in the Asia-Pacific region. With offices in France and in Hong Kong, Clim8 has so far been financed by angel investors, but will start raising more substantial capital early next year.
Miguet will be speaking about the potentially disruptive aspects of digitalization in the apparel market and the impact of the related data on distribution and the brands' relationship with end users. He reckons that few of the larger sports companies have a clear strategy to invest in such technologies, apart from Under Armour. Clim8 is to be launched at Ispo Munich, positioned as an ingredient brand.
The spread of such products adds to the huge proliferation of data in the sports industry. Jay Lee, professor at the University of Cincinnati, adviser and author, will discuss ways for companies to make more out of this data, by controlling the quality of the input and making it more domain-centric.
At the same time, data may be used to make manufacturing processes more efficient. Working with scores of global companies such as Boeing, Intel, Siemens and Toshiba, Lee will discuss some of the most interesting trends in predictive big data analytics, and specific examples of business innovation based on industrial big data.
You will read about the event in this publication later this year, but it may be even better to attend. WFSGI says there are still a few seats available at the conference.