Score one for the humans.
While robots have been among the prime culprits in siphoning jobs from American workers in recent decades, a new factory from German sportswear giant Adidas in metro Atlanta will require 160 humans to oversee automations that will enable it to better compete in the U.S. market, the company said in a news release.
Plans call for the 74,000-square-foot factory in Cherokee County, northwest of Atlanta, to make 50,000 pairs of running shoes the first year after it becomes operational in the second half of 2017. Eventually the brand hopes that number will increase tenfold.
The company says the so-called “Speedfactory,” modeled off an existing facility in Germany, will allow for an optimal blend of mass production and customization of materials and styles, giving the company a flexibility it can’t achieve manufacturing offshore.
The Speedfactory concept was piloted in Ansbach, Germany, in December 2015 with a run of 500 pairs and is only just now moving into commercial production, both in Germany and in Atlanta.
Adidas’s arrival will bring home a blend of trends around global manufacturing, among them “re-shoring” to get closer to end markets in geography and mindset, sustainability, contract manufacturing and the need for technically skilled labor to manage the precision processes of the new mode of making things in America.
While the bulk of shoes — including those of Adidas — are still made in giant Asian factories, the company frames the Speedfactory as providing an antidote to homogeneity through a new model of partnership with the consumer. One executive said it would give customers access to “constant newness.” Another called it “co-creating” with customers.
“We are obsessed with bringing all steps of the creation process home to America,” Adidas Group Board Member Eric Liedtke said in a statement. “We’re fueling design at the ground level of creativity in Brooklyn and reinventing manufacturing with the first Adidas Speedfactory in Atlanta. This allows us to make product for the consumer, with the consumer, where the consumer lives in real time, unleashing unparalleled creativity and endless opportunities for customization in America.”
The factory will be operated by Oechsler AG, a plastics manufacturer that also runs the German Speedfactory.
The move highlights the advanced manufacturing sector in Georgia, a former textile powerhouse that saw thousands of jobs shifted overseas in search of lower-wage workers.
Now, experiments in automation are happening here in the state in fields like robotics and 3D printing, often fueled by advances at institutions such as Georgia Institute of Technology. (Incidentally, the first “walking robot” at Georgia Tech was given a pair of Adidas sneakers as a reward for taking its first steps.)
Softwear Automation Inc. is developing sewing robots, while Atlanta-based DDM Systems, recognized by U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at HannoverMesse, the world’s largest trade fair, is pioneering new methods of additive manufacturing.
Cherokee County is no stranger to apparel work: The county just announced a $9.6 million investment by LAT Apparel, which makes blank t-shirts and other items. It has had a presence there for 35 years.