Earlier this month, I got to see the Adidas Speedfactory demonstration on the show floor at the 2018 SAPPHIRE NOW conference in Orlando. First, let me back up and explain what SAPPHIRE is. German software company SAP puts on an annual conference for users, and I go every year to cover it for my day job. A lot of new technology, like machine learning, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and analytics are demonstrated alongside the company’s flagship enterprise resource planning systems. (SAP also makes product announcements and hosts a concert at the end of the conference – this year, it was Justin Timberlake, and yes, he was on fire.)
What’s the Adidas Speedfactory?
Most of what I wrote just now likely means very little to you, except the Adidas and Justin Timberlake parts. I’m not a music reviewer, so let’s skip directly to the Adidas Speedfactory, which uses these new technologies to create custom shoes and apparel for consumers. Adidas (the parent company of Reebok) describes it as:
Athlete data-driven design. Radical accelerated footwear production. Open Source co-creation. Hyper flexible and localized manufacturing.
Adidas’s Chief Information Officer Michael Voegele described it in a keynote speech as a concept store/factory driven by machine learning. The company uses SAP Leonardo technology to scan thousands of images and translate it into guided design. On the show floor in a demonstration kiosk, that means the customer is body-scanned to get measurements, then chooses the apparel or shoes, the color, the material, and other design elements. The Speedfactory then creates the items within 24 hours.
It sounds like a concept out of The Jetsons, doesn’t it? Or, in light of all the stories about companies using data in creepy ways, yes, it does sound kind of creepy. But imagine getting a pair of running tights perfectly fitted to your body, in the crop length you want! Or a pair of running shoes tailored to your unique biomechanics, including your high arches! There’s already an Adidas Speedfactory outside Atlanta, according to Voegele. (Also, he insists that Adidas is pronounced “Ah-DID-us,” not “Ah-DEE-dus.”)
Right now, the Speedfactory only replenishes sold-out stock. So if you’re hankering for a certain model of Adidas sneakers, the Speedfactory churns it out, or if Adidas wants to create a limited run, they’d use the Speedfactory. Creating custom shoes and apparel is still a ways off into the future. It’s still a cool concept and one that also saves resources and gets products to market faster.