Adidas to Close Robot-Staffed ‘Speedfactories’

The company had seen the two futuristic shoe plants in Germany and the U.S. as a way to "reinvent manufacturing."
Matthew HellerNovember 11, 2019

Adidas is closing both of its robot-powered “Speedfactories,” abandoning a strategy aimed at bringing sneaker production closer to Western markets and reducing reliance on Asian suppliers.

The footwear giant had described the futuristic factories it opened in Ansbach, Germany, in 2017 and Atlanta in 2018 as “reinventing manufacturing.” They combined a small human workforce with technologies including 3-D printing, robotic arms, and computerized knitting to make running shoes.

But Adidas announced Monday that production at the two plants will be discontinued by April 2020 at the latest and will instead use the Speedfactory technologies to produce athletic footwear at two of its suppliers in Asia.

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“Speedfactories have been instrumental in furthering our manufacturing innovation and capabilities,” Martin Shankland, Adidas’ head of global operations, said in a news release, adding that the company will leverage the technologies “to be more flexible and economic while simultaneously expanding the range of products available.”

As Reuters reports, the factories were “part of a drive to meet demand for faster delivery of new styles to its major markets and to counter rising wages in Asia and higher shipping costs. Adidas originally planned a global network of similar factories.”

More than one million workers produce Adidas shoes in contract factories, particularly in China and Vietnam.

The mostly-automated manufacturing in Germany and the U.S. produced a small range of sneakers including the Futurecraft M.F.G and a line of AM4 shoes. Adidas claimed it would be able to deliver shoes “up to 36 times faster than standard industry production times.”

“When Adidas released 500 pairs of the Futurecraft M.F.G. in Berlin, ­people camped out on the street to buy them, and the sneakers sold out almost instantly,” Wired reported.

Adidas did not explain the decision to close the plants but Reuters said they had proved to be expensive and it was “difficult to extend the technology to different products.”

“Going forward, not only running shoes, but also models of other product categories will be able to be produced in a short period of time by using the production processes tested in the Speedfactories,” Adidas said.

Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images