An expensive experiment in global distribution has been abandoned by Adidas, who has announced that it will close the robot's "Speedfactories" in Atlanta and Ansbach, Germany, within 6 months. The company sugared the news with a promise to reuse the technology used at the existing human-powered factories in Asia.
The factories were established in 2016 (Ansbach) and 2017 (Atlanta) as part of a strategy to decentralize their production process. The existing model, like so many other industries, is to produce the product in East Asia, where labor and overhead are less expensive, and then ship it as needed. But this is a slow and clumsy model for an industry that is moving as fast as fashion and athletics.
"Right now most of our products are made by Asia and we put them on a boat or on an airplane to end up on Fifth Avenue," said CMO Eric Liedtke in an interview last year at Disrupt SF about new production techniques. Speedfactories was meant to change that: "Instead of having some kind of micro-distribution center in Jersey, we can have a micro-factory in Jersey."
This seems to have proved more difficult than expected. As other industries have found in the hurry of automation, it's easy to overwrite the brand and overcommit when technology just isn't ready.
Robot factories are a powerful tool, but difficult to quickly configure or repurpose, since it requires specialized knowledge to set up racks with robotic arms, computer vision systems and so on. Robot manufacturers are making progress in this field, but for now it is much more difficult than training a human workforce to use standard tools in a different pattern.
In a press release, Adidas Global Operations Manager Martin Shankland explained that "The Speedfactories have been instrumental in advancing our production innovation and capabilities," and that they soon brought products to market quickly. " our goal from the beginning, "he says, although things probably played out a little differently in the tone decks of 201[ads1]6.
" We are very sorry that our collaboration in Ansbach and Atlanta has come to an end, "said Shankland. Oechsler, the "The high-tech manufacturing partner that Adidas worked with feels the same. Although we understand Adidas's reasons for interrupting Speedfactory production in Oechsler, we apologize for this decision," company CEO Claudius Kozlik said in the press release. eliminating or relocating around 160 jobs they provided, but the two companies will continue to collaborate.
The release states that Adidas will "use their Spe edfactory technologies to produce athletic footwear at two of its suppliers in Asia ”starting next year. It's not clear what that means, and I've asked the company for more information.