Robots could restore 'Made in Germany' label to Adidas shoes
By Emma Thomasson
HERZOGENAURACH, Germany (Reuters) - German cobbler Adi Dassler revolutionized running when he started hammering spikes into track shoes almost a century ago. Today most of the 258 million pairs of shoes produced each year by his firm Adidas are made in low-cost Asia.
That could soon change as cheaper, faster and more flexible robots mean manufacturing - including producing fiddly footwear - could be brought closer to consumers in high-wage countries like Germany, speeding up delivery and slashing freight costs in what some call a fourth industrial revolution.
Adidas is working with the German government, academics and robotics firms on new technologies it hopes will trigger a significant a shift in the footwear industry as the move led by its arch rival Nike to produce in Asia decades ago.
The project is part of a broader drive by Adidas to catch up with Nike, which has extended its lead as the world's biggest sportswear firm in recent years with innovative products such as its "Flyknit" shoes made out of machine-knitted fiber.
"We will bring production back to where the main markets are," Adidas Chief Executive Herbert Hainer said in March. "We will be the leader and the first mover there."
Adidas hopes to be able to produce a custom-made running shoe from scratch in a store in Berlin by next year, using a stitching machine and a foamer to make the sole.
Nike, which has long faced criticism for using Asian sweat shops to produce its pricey footwear, is also investing heavily in new manufacturing methods. But it has not yet put a date on when it expects that to result in more U.S.-based production.