From Susanna Koelblin:
First large scale shoe robot factory unveiled: Adidas will use machines in Germany instead of humans in Asia to make shoes
Adidas, the German maker of sportswear, has announced it will start marketing its first series of shoes manufactured by robots in Germany from 2017. More than 20 years after Adidas ceased production activities in Germany and moved them to Asia, Adidas unveiled the group’s new prototype “Speedfactory” in Germany. As of this year, the factory will begin large-scale production. What’s more, Adidas will also open a second Speedfactory in the U.S. in 2017, followed by more in Western Europe. According to the company, the German and American plants will in the “mid-term” each scale up to producing half a million pair of shoes per year.
Does this pose a threat to Adidas’s traditional manufacturing base in China, Indonesia and Vietnam? After all, labor in the region is becoming less cheap these days, and manufacturers are increasingly turning to robots. The current model in the apparel industry is very much based on sourcing products from countries where consumers are typically not based. In the longer term Adidas could even produce the shirts of Germany’s national football team in its home country. The shoes made in Germany would sell at a similar price to those produced in Asia, where Adidas employs around one million workers. Arch-rival Nike is also developing its robot-operated factory.
This development in the shoe area is just the beginning and will be leveraged to the apparel industry as well….
Robot factories will not restore former employment levels, with operations run by a skeleton staff. And low employment leads to low consumption. But new factories will require intensive capital investment. This may portend increased demand for capital in the future. With current high debt levels threatening the stability of the financial system, equity investors may be in short supply.