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The Magazine
The personalized shoe for everyone will soon be more than just a dream

Personalized mass production at adidas, thanks to the digital twin

Fits like a glove

A running shoe in a color that matches your favorite outfit? Adapted to your foot, specific type of sport, and delivered to your house just a few days later? Soon professional athletes – like the soccer players of FC Bayern – won’t be the only ones who can benefit from personalized products. With its SPEEDFACTORIES, adidas wants to create customized athletic shoes for everyone – ready within a click of a mouse. Siemens is contributing the digital technologies that make this happen. An enormous future market is behind this move.

The global corporation adidas, headquartered in Herzogenaurach, Germany, plans to manufacture its athletic footwear digitally in the future. The goal is to make the manufacturing process faster, more customized, and more flexible. In the future, consumers will configure their own personalized athletic shoes right in the store or on their laptop, place the order, and receive their shoes a short time later. In the first phase, the amount of time required from designing a shoe to selling it in the store is expected to be reduced from several months to only weeks using the so-called SPEEDFACTORY– and it should take just a few days or even hours in the future. By comparison, the development and manufacture of athletic shoes by designers in Germany and factories in Asia currently take about 18 months, including transportation.

“Our goal is to establish a global network of automated factories that brings the latest cutting-edge technology to cities around the globe,” says Gerd Manz, explaining the company’s vision. Manz is Vice President of Technology Innovation at adidas. Together with his team, he has already launched many top products under the adidas brand – innovative, performance-enhancing athletic shoes as well as a number of soccer balls for World Cup championships and the Champions League. He’s convinced of one thing: “SPEEDFACTORY helps facilitate commercial mass production, so that every consumer can get whatever they want, whenever they want it, right on site – faster than ever before.”

Consumer requirements are changing faster and faster. Whatever is in demand today may be out of style again by tomorrow. Highly flexible production is the solution, and digital factory automation and simulation solutions make this possible.

Personalized mass production – yes, it’s possible!

In the final expansion stage, all processes in the SPEEDFACTORY will be digitalized. As a partner to adidas, Siemens is implementing its promise of a digital enterprise. “The SPEEDFACTORY project is all about networking cutting-edge digital solutions with industrial manufacturing – or rather, connecting the virtual production environment with the real-life one,” says Klaus Helmrich, member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG. Specifically, this means that production equipment and production processes will be first designed as a digital twin and optimized. Only afterwards will they be implemented in the real world. “This makes the production infrastructure highly flexible and a lot faster, because errors can be corrected ahead of time and everything is optimally designed before production even begins. And because the real-world data can be immediately reused in the virtual planning stage,” Helmrich explains. Thanks to this universal, systematic digitalization of the entire value chain – from designing a product to producing it to customer service, and by mapping it as a digital twin – Siemens is helping its partner adidas to achieve a personalized mass production process.

Production of the future

Digitalizing the entire production process and mapping it as a digital twin is just the first step enabling adidas to respond much more quickly and flexibly to specific customer requirements. Over the long run, the high degree of digitalization should also enable the SPEEDFACTORIES to process a high degree of individual consumer data and very quickly produce unique pairs of shoes that are tailored to the feet of the people who wear them.  

The implementation of this vision has already gotten off to a good start: The first SPEEDFACTORY is now in operation in Ansbach, Germany, and the first major project is underway with the launch of the AM4LDN shoe, which is tailored specifically to the needs and desires of runners in London. The automation systems and the digital twin from Siemens will be installed over the coming months. In the medium term, adidas plans to produce approximately 500,000 shoes per year in Ansbach. A second SPEEDFACTORY is being built in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Batch size of 1 as a market opportunity

Thanks to the extremely flexible production process, the SPEEDFACTORY will enable adidas to respond faster to trends and rapidly changing consumer preferences. At a time where the trend is going towards personalized mass products and even batch sizes of 1, this presents an enormous market opportunity. “Everything we do is focused on our consumers. They demand the highest level of individuality and quality. With SPEEDFACTORY, we can completely rethink conventional processes and live up to these high expectations,” says Manz, summarizing the approach. “By digitalizing the value chain, we will be able to implement new technological innovations even more quickly, make more efficient and transparent use of the resources available, and thus respond more flexibly to the individual needs of our consumers – to give them what they want, when they want it.”

Picture credits: adidas