The adidas Innovation Team (ait) is tasked with coming up with innovations in materials and processes to help improve the products made by the adidas Sports Performance division.
"It is all about improving performance for the athletes, whether that's a top star or my mother!" explains Gerd Manz, Head of Engineering in the ait. "We explore new processes and technologies, partnering with suppliers and universities to build up our knowledge and then we work out how to apply that know-how to products."
Environmental considerations come into the equation once the team has identified a performance-enhancing technology. Robert Leimer is a Senior Development Manager in Gerd's team: "We always try to build this high-performance equipment in the most environmentally-friendly way we can."
How to address environmental issues
There are two main ways the team can address environmental issues: first in how the component is made and secondly in the choice of materials. As Gerd explains, the team has to investigate how to manufacture a new component anyway: "We need to know everything about a new technology. Our task is to add new technologies to the toolbox for our in-line design colleagues. We have to run a full feasibility study and we need to be able to demonstrate how a component can be made."
This is where the team will explore if the component can be thinner: using less material means less waste and less embedded carbon. It also helps meet cost criteria. The choice of materials is key, too. If the component can be made from a lighter material then that will also reduce carbon emissions. And with plastics being oil-based, the team is also on the lookout for bio-based alternatives.
Robert says: "If we get the lightweighting right, this generally improves performance as well because it makes the final product faster and more comfortable to use. But whatever we put in, it has to be right. If the performance is not there we won't use it."
Improving product performance is key and it seems that the processes and tools in place to achieve this lend themselves to improving environmental performance, too.
An example of where new technologies have been used to improve performance and reduce environmental impacts is in the FORMOTION™ heel component for footwear. FORMOTION™ is a free-moving heel system that is decoupled from the sole which allows a pair of trainers to adapt to each individual's running style to give a smoother running experience.
"Sometimes our learning can come from another industry," says Robert Leimer. "The hot runner technology we use for some of our FORMOTION™ heel components has been widely used in other areas like the automotive sector."
The hot runners used in FORMOTION™ reduce waste by eliminating sprue units. The sprue is the passage through which melted plastic is injected. During the injection process the melt hardens in the sprue which means it needs to be removed from the finished product and thrown away. Eliminating sprues thanks to the use of hot runners has reduced material waste by up to 50%.
A modular mould system which allows for the same mould base to be used on different products also reduces waste. And using lighter, stiffer materials means less material is used and also cuts down on carbon emissions because the finished product is lighter to transport.
Finally, for our current development, the amount of glue used has been reduced by using laser welding or a mechanical locking design, thereby reducing emissions. And where glue is used, the team has specified water-based glues as much as possible.
FORMOTIONTM environmental benefits
- Using hot runners means up to 50% less material waste
- Less glue so fewer toxic emissions
- Lightweight construction technologies reduces material use and CO2 emissions from transport
- Modular mould system allows for sharing mould bases between products and so reduces mould material waste.