The tasks of producing much of the footwear we wear left for Asia many moons ago. However, technology could be bringing them back. That is because some of the major players in the footwear world- Nike, Adidas, and even Reebok , could be returning with robot-driven production facilities.
Last week, Canton, Massachusetts based Reebok announced it planned to open a high-tech facility in Rhode Island in which sneakers would be produced by robots pouring plastic.
Our idea was,if the U.S. Us where the innovation is, let’s make the product that’s the most innovative here as opposed to overseas.” – Reebok “Headof Future”, Bill McInnis
McInnis also said an industrial robot will draw ribbons of liquid quickly harden into an outsole. The facility is scheduled to open in early 2017 as a collaborative effort with footwear plastics company The AF Group Inc., and though mostly automated, will employ approximately 150 people.
He described the coming Burrillville, R.I.location as a “small-batch” factory that will make thousands of shoes, in contrast to the hundreds of thousands produced in Asian plants. Amongst its chief aims are to accelerate the shoe-molding process, which can be painstaking, labor-intensive and expensive.
The equipment is all programmable,so you can basically change from a one type of design process to another on the fly. The manufacturing process could be regionalized. If you’re selling them in New England, you could make them in New England.” – Keith Lonergan, AF Group President
Lower labor costs is what pushed athletic footwear production to Asia in the 1970’s, but it could have its foot in the door again in the United States. Some of the reasons for this include China’s growing middle class has increased production costs, a desire to have sneakers made closer to where they are purchased and technological innovations that are helping to automate a historically labor intensive craft.
Matt Powell, a sports industry analyst with NPD group had this to say: “Brands want to move closer to the U.S. to get products to market faster. Today when you make a shoe in Asia, it spends months on an ace an freighter.”