High-tech factory of Adidas brings back production to Germany. Behind closed doors in the Bavarian town of Ansbach a new factory is taking shape. That it will use robots and novel production techniques such as additive manufacturing (known as 3D printing) is not surprising for Germany, which has maintained its manufacturing base through innovative engineering. What is unique about this factory is that it will not be making cars, aircraft or electronics but trainers and other sports shoes—an $80bn-a-year industry that has been offshored largely to China, Indonesia and Vietnam. By bringing production home, this factory is out to reinvent an industry.
The Speedfactory, as the Ansbach plant is called, belongs to Adidas, a giant German sports-goods firm, and is being built with Oechsler Motion, a local firm that makes manufacturing equipment. Production is due to begin in mid-2017, slowly at first and then ramping up to 500,000 pairs of trainers a year. Adidas is constructing a second Speedfactory near Atlanta for the American market. If all goes well, they will spring up elsewhere, too.
The numbers are tiny for a company that makes some 300m pairs of sports shoes each year. Yet Adidas is convinced the Speedfactory will help it to transform the way trainers are created. The techniques it picks up from the project can then be rolled out to other new factories as well as to existing ones, including in Asia—where demand for sports and casual wear is rising along with consumer wealth.
Currently, trainers are made mostly by hand in giant factories, often in Asian countries, with people assembling components or shaping, bonding and sewing materials. Rising prosperity in the region means the cost of manual work outsourced to the region is rising. Labour shortages loom. Certain jobs require craft skills which are becoming rarer; many people now have the wherewithal to avoid tasks that can be dirty or monotonous.