Your next Adidas runners might be made in America – by a robot. The shoemaker revealed more details today about its coming 'Speedfactory,' which it previously announced would be coming to the U.S. in 2017. The factory will call Atlanta home, and feature 74,000 square feet of robot shoemaking capability, with full operational status target for the end of next year.
The factory has an output capacity of 50,000 pairs of shoes per year, which is only a small slice of its overall annual shoe shipments. But the Atlanta facility will be Adidas' second Speedfactory, joining the original in its home territory of Germany. Humans will benefit, too: The company says that it will create about 160 jobs for people overseeing the factory, too.
While it's far too early to say that Adidas and others are charting a path towards robot-led manufacturing, these early experiments do seem to indicate a lot of interest. And Adidas cites the ability of the factories to be nimble in terms of customization as a key factor. Increasingly, shoemakers including rival Nike are offering shoe creation tools to customers as a way to sell more sneaks. Paint-by-numbers shoe components and robots programmed to mix and match are a great way to serve this market efficiently and with fewer errors in putting together combinations.
Adidas also seems to value the ability the Speedfactories have to reconfigure production lines based on changes in customer demand. Programming the robots to focus more on one model, a different size or a different combination of core components is much easier and requires less transition time than with a human workforce.
It's likely less feasible for brands like Adidas to be able to count on a relative uniformity in customer taste, thanks to the decline of centralized media like TV. Robot workforces might be the answer, giving them the flexibility to offer variety while maintaining high volume output.