Sportswear manufacturer Adidas is creating a new digital manufacturing factory in the German town of Ansbach that will use robots, 3D printing and knitting machines to produce the latest footwear.
The move will reduce the reliance on having the footwear made by hand in overseas factories in countries such as China, Indonesia and Vietnam, and follows in the footsteps of American brands, such as Reebok, moving to reshore manufacturing with the aid of digital manufacturing.
The Adidas Speedfactory aims to produce up to 500,000 pairs of trainers a year, and comes off the back of the company’s work under the umbrella of the German government’s plans for Industry 4.0.
The move has seen the Adidas Group team up with other tech pioneers, including amongst others, Johnson Controls, a global player and leading supplier in the automotive industry; KSL Keilmann, experts in constructing individual robotic assembly solutions; Fortiss, an research institute for software-intensive systems and services; the institute of textile technology of the University of Aachen (Germany), specialised in developing new textile machines and processes.
“The ultimate goal of the diverse group: strike a new path and experiment on how companies may generate product innovations in a few years from today,” explains an article on the Adidas Group website.
“The project’s name implies the high ambitions linked to it: Speedfactory. So, this time, it is not only about the product of the future… but also about how to innovate the way products of the future are manufactured.”
The facility will shorten time to market – giving consumers the styles they want faster – but should also give Adidas greater control over the entire process, utilising a digital twin of the facility to prototype the manufacturing process before a physical shoe is even tested on the production line.
According to the Economist, in an interview with Gerd Manz, the company’s head of technology innovation.not every job in the Speedfactory will be automated, with robots currently slower and less precise at some tasks, such as the final shaping of a shoe.
As a result each Speedfactory should create around 160 production jobs, compared with over a thousand in a typical factory in Asia.
A second Speedfactory plant is already earmarked for Atlanta, USA.