The article below refers to the research project lead by adidas and funded by the German government. This project is part of the technological program ”Autonomic for Industry 4.0” focusing on a new era of manufacturing.
The eyes of Gerd Manz light up with excitement. Gerd is Senior Innovation Director at adidas and has been with the company for sixteen years. Together with his team, he has worked on many of the adidas brand’s game changers like ClimaCool, BOOST, Springblade and a variety of World Cup & Champions League match balls – long before any athlete even assumed that performance-enhancing innovations like these are possible at all. He’s living in a world at least two to five years ahead of ours. If someone knows that boundaries are here to be pushed, it is him and his team. But his shining eyes reveal: what Gerd is excited about in this very moment is new – even to this imaginative man of the future.
The prerequisite: a thoughtfully selected composition of delegates
I don’t know yet what the results will exactly look like, but I definitely see huge potential.
The other men and women sitting with Gerd around a big meeting table at the adidas Group’s headquarters in Herzogenaurach nod in agreement. Each of them represents a company or an institution that could not be any more different from the adidas Group – at least at first sight. However, it is a thoughtfully selected composition of stakeholders that have sent ambassadors to Herzogenaurach. The adidas Group has teamed up with them because they all have the ability to add value to the project’s purpose like no one else. They are all masterminds in their specific area:
Johnson Controls – a global player and leading supplier in the automotive industry. KSL Keilmann – experts in constructing individual robotic assembly solutions. fortiss – an institute associated with the Technical University of Munich with the mandate to facilitate research and technology transfer in software-intensive systems and services. ITA RWTH – the institute of textile technology of the University of Aachen (Germany), specialised in developing new textile machines and processes. And, last but not least, the adidas Group’s project team consisting of experts from the adidas Innovation, Global IT Innovation and Sourcing teams.
The ultimate goal of the diverse group: strike a new path and experiment on how companies may generate product innovations in a few years from today. The project’s name implies the high ambitions linked to it: Speedfactory. So, this time, it is not only about the product of the future for Gerd but also about how to innovate the way products of the future are manufactured. That’s pretty much new to him and the entire project team, but not entirely new to the adidas Group in general.
THE KEY: COMBINING STATE-OF-THE-ART INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES WITH MANUFACTURING PROCESSES AND INNOVATIVE PRODUCTS
To stay at the forefront of innovation, the adidas Group has always had a proactive approach to establish internationally recognised best practices and achieve scalable and sustainable improvements. One recent key innovation in the area of sustainable manufacturing is DryDye, a technology that eliminates the need for water in the dyeing process. Another example is the Manufacturing Excellence Programme, a strategic key initiative that deep-dives into a variety of projects across the adidas Group’s supply base to further optimise how our products are engineered and manufactured. Also, the adidas Group just recently announced a strategic cooperation with BASF (remember Boost?) and continues its research activities to come up with new disruptive innovations; these are just a few examples of how the adidas Group is addressing the future of manufacturing. The Speedfactory project is the latest addition to the Group’s manifold activities.
"The Future of Manufacturing might be about different materials or product features and functions which we do not consider yet. Just as well it could be about new production technologies and new ways of engaging with our consumers and their needs. We are asking ourselves lots of different questions, such as: How can we be faster and more flexible, and what environmental footprint can we possibly leave?" Gerd Manz explains the project’s potential.
And project lead Jan Hill adds:
Combining state-of-the-art information technologies with manufacturing processes and innovative products will be key in finding the answers. Speedfactory will be our research vehicle for the next three years to test and try how we can shape the Future of Manufacturing.
This is one of the reasons why a product innovator such as Gerd and the entire team are getting so deeply involved. It is all about setting new impulses and continuously changing for the better. In the sporting goods industry, the way products are manufactured has changed significantly over the past decades: from small and family-run businesses – operating locally and manually – to global players with (partly) automated production lines and a global consumer base. The future will bring further change to the industry on a regular basis. For a long time, the company has realised that innovation will decide about future success and that only innovation will ensure the Group’s competitiveness. This is why the adidas Group invests into initiatives like DryDye or the Manufacturing Excellence Programme and now into Speedfactory.
The supporter: German government certifies huge potential of “Speedfactory”
Back to Speedfactory. Interestingly, the German government comes into play next. Speedfactory fits perfectly into the “High-Tech Strategy 2020”, the national plan to take the country to the next level in terms of innovation and technology. Now, why would the German government be interested in the future of sneaker production? Quite simple:
The “High-Tech Strategy” was developed to set up a broad and successful basis in science, research, technology and innovation, in order to contribute to improving people’s lives as well as helping secure prosperity and qualified jobs in Germany. First launched in 2006, the national approach evolved into High-Tech Strategy 2020, which today comprises five fields of action: climate/energy, health/nutrition, mobility, security and communication. This plan involves a complex and well thought-out structure and helps focusing the country’s research and innovation activities on ten selected future-oriented projects, all of them pursuing certain objectives related to scientific and technological developments over a period of ten to fifteen years. Tangible topics and projects will serve as leverage for developing innovative strategies and steps towards realisation.
And this is where the future of sneakers comes in: One of those ten future-oriented projects identified and funded by the German government is “Industry 4.0”, hosting – among others - the programme “Autonomic for Industry 4.0”. This technological programme orchestrates twelve different projects with one of them being Speedfactory. ”Autonomic for Industry 4.0” is focusing on a new era of manufacturing, looking into production processes as they will be increasingly influenced by innovative information and communication technologies (ICT) over the coming years. Thus, the approach foresees to utilise latest ICT to lower the amount of energy needed in manufacturing processes, while at the same time targeting these processes to be more environmentally-friendly and efficient in relation to material wear. In order to be able to respond to the demand for highly individualised products, another stream focuses on advancing the development of highly flexible production infrastructures with intelligent and autonomic functionalities.
We are very happy to be part of this endeavour by breaking new grounds and underlying our leadership in innovation. We will keep pushing the envelope with continuous innovations for sustainable business success.
Gerd emphasises: “Speedfactory is a great framework for this. For us here at the adidas Group, the collaboration with all our expert partners is very inspiring. Our objective is very clear: ultimately, the results of this project will provide consumers with solutions they need to make them the best athlete possible.” And there it was again, the excited sparkle in Gerd’s eyes.