How Adidas uses robots and athlete data to dramatically cut shoe production time

The global shoe company is using time-saving technology to shift from mass production to smaller batches of city-customized shoes.

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Using robots and athlete data, shoe company Adidas is creating small batches of city-specific sneakers, signaling a technology-driven shift from mass production.

Using their Speedfactory in Germany, Adidas is making shoes designed for certain cities, starting with London. Called "the future of how we create," the Speedfactory uses athlete data to create the city-customized designs, according to the micro-factory's website. Instead of using human workers, the factory uses robots, cutting time to market from over a year to as little as 45 days.

The initial global launch of the robot-built shoes, called the AM4 series, will also include shoes designed for and sold in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Tokyo, and Shanghai. London's shoe will be sold next week for around 169.95 pounds--around $222 US dollars.

David Drury, director of development for footwear sourcing at Adidas, called the venture an opportunity to "disrupt with brand new technologies."

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As the shoe industry begins to focus on smaller releases instead of mass production, Adidas shows how technology can aid in overcoming the normally long and costly procedure of mass production. Smaller batches take less time and money to develop and create than a mass release, which can take over a year to get a shoe to market and requires at least 50,000 shoes a batch to turn a profit.

In Adidas's mass production model, the firm employs a million factory workers in China and Vietnam to create the shoes. The shoes are then sent to customers around the globe.

In the small batch model, the manufacturing point is closer to the customer and shoes are created by machines, which move faster and make fewer errors than humans. The machines also cost less than hiring workers in North America or Europe, where the new models need to be manufactured to cut delivery time.

Adidas isn't the only shoemaker experimenting which tech. Nike is using static electricity to create shoes up to 20 times faster than humans.

With two top names looking to next-generation technologies to advance their manufacturing techniques, other shoe companies will have to develop or adopt technologies to match pace. Outside of shoes, other companies can examine how their production processes can be sped up through robots or customized through small batches tailored using data.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Shoe company Adidas is using time-saving robots and athlete data to create small batches of city-customized sneakers in its Speedfactory in Germany.
  2. The experiment in shifting from mass production to small batch lets the shoemaker drop the time it takes to bring a shoe to market from over a year to a few weeks or days.
  3. Adidas shows that companies, especially those not necessarily deemed "techy," can utilize tech to rev up production and their business.

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Image: iStockphoto/CraigRJD

Image: iStockphoto/CraigRJD