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Flyknit May Revolutionize Manufacture of Shoes, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

With the advent of 3-D printers, advanced software and robots in factories, shoes and clothing can be made more quickly and efficiently than ever before.  Nike launched a revolutionary new running shoe called the Flyknit.  The 5.6-ounce, high tech shoe is made from synthetic yarn, using a machine that knits together the upper part of the shoe, which is then attached to the sole.  This process not only produces a lighter-weight shoe (which running enthusiasts have long awaited) with less manufacturing waste, the Flyknit requires far less labor since it has 35 fewer pieces to assemble than comparable shoes.
The savings may make it possible for Nike to have the Flyknit manufactured in the U.S.  While still more expensive than production overseas, the company will spend less on shipping and fulfill orders more quickly to meet demand.  Nike also offers Nike By You, a customizable shoe option both in stores and online.
Adidas, the German shoe and athletic apparel manufacturer, has a new facility called Speedfactory in the town of Anspach, Germany with robots and 3-D printers.  The plant has a capacity of 500,000 pairs of athletic shoes per year.  Adidas built a similar facility near Atlanta, Georgia, USA in 2018.  However, as of late 2019, the firm closed both the German and American facilities to focus on production in Vietnam and China.
Brooks, a shoe manufacturer based in Seattle, Washington, is utilizing HP’s FitStation biomechanical measuring system for its new bespoke shoes.  The system makes a 3-D scan of customer’s feet while in motion, enabling Brooks to make shoes of ideal density for up to 30 zones of the foot.
Carbon, Inc. (www.carbon3d.com) is a 3-D printer manufacturer in California that has made athletic shoe soles for Adidas.  Carbon’s process employs a technology called digital light synthesis, which uses software to control chemical reactions, resulting in the “growth” of parts based on liquid polymers.  The technology produces 12 classes of materials including heat-resistant cyanate ester for use in automotive and aerospace parts and elastomers that are used in shoes.  Another company, Betabrand (www.betabrand.com), partners with shoe and accessory manufacturer Li and Fung to combine crowdsourcing with 3-D digital rendering.  Website visitors vote on popular styles, with winners becoming available in as little as five days.

SPOTLIGHT:  Garment Factory Automation
While many industries are automating, with robots replacing workers in factories, the garment industry has been somewhat protected by the complexity of cutting and sewing.  The work has remained in the hands of millions of factory workers around the world.  However, Steve Dickerson, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the founder of a startup called SoftWear Automation, built and patented a robotic sewing machine in 2012.  The machines, called Sewbots, use high-speed photography that captures up to 1,000 frames per second to track material as it is sewn.  Software analyzes the photographs fast enough to make tiny adjustments necessary to switch positions when necessary and even feed fabric into the sewing machine when needed. 
A materials-handling system called LOWRY was developed to pick up pieces of fabric and move them to other machines for buttonholes, zippers or related finishing tasks.  Tianyuan Garments Co. in eastern China was recently opened a $20 million factory staffed by approximately 330 robots built by SoftWear Automation.  As more garment factories automate and are freed from cost of labor issues, look for more companies to relocate production to areas where the bulk of their customers reside.


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