Adidas Begins Slow Exit of Asian Manufacturing; Announces German and US Robot Factories

German footwear giant Adidas is once again making shoes at home, all with the help of some speedy new robots.

The new 4,600 square meter Speedfactory, located in Ansbach, Germany, uses intelligent robots to create shoes at faster speeds, and allows for greater creative flexibility in the manufacturing process. The factory, which was first piloted late last year, is set to begin large-scale production in 2017, with the first pairs of high-performance footwear to come off the robotic assembly line to be revealed later this year.

The Speedfactory marks the first time in 20 years Adidas is manufacturing shoes in its home country, having previously moved all of its production activities to Asia, where it currently employs about one million workers. Most of this work is done by hand, but the German company is facing rising production costs, and must greatly increase the number of shoes it produces to reach its growth targets by 2020.

In a press preview of the factory, Gerd Manz, Adidas’ head of innovation and technology, said that there are no immediate plans to start replacing workers in Asia. “Our goal is not full automatisation,” he said in an interview with The Guardian.

Nonetheless, Adidas, which produced 301 million shoes last year, and needs to produce 30 million more each year to reach its 2020 targets, said it is also planning to bring robot-operated production to the U.S. in 2017, followed by facilities in France and the U.K. at later dates.

Adidas says these new Western facilities will allow for more shoes to be created closer to its sales outlets, and promised that the shoes produced at these facilities will retail at prices comparable to those currently made by its subcontractors in Asia. The footwear giant is also seeking to gain a competitive advantage over its arch rival Nike, which is currently in the process of building its own robot factories.

“Our goal is to give consumers what they want when they want it,” said Glenn Bennett, Adidas Group executive board member. “It’s a new era in footwear crafting – with greater precision, unique design opportunities and high performance. Products of tomorrow are going to look different to what we have today.”

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