Magazine December 2018

The textile world at a glance: From innovation to individualization

Fast fashion and microfactories

Why digitalization is so indispensable in the clothing industry and how adidas is setting an example in the field

For a long time, the clothing and shoe industry was driven by just one goal - to produce their products as cost-effectively and efficiently as possible. Large batch sizes, long planning and transport paths as well as enormous stocks were accepted as a by-product.
In the current market, where fashion trends change almost weekly and consumers place value on individual clothing, the traditional supply and production chain has ever more disadvantages. As a result, the calls for new technical solutions and adapted production processes are becoming louder in order to meet the requirements of the customers. There is therefore an increasing focus on the so-called “microfactory” – a concept that has already been exemplified by the sporting goods manufacturer adidas in the form of its SPEEDFACTORY.

Three mannequins in a clothing shop

Trend fashion is produced quickly and in small series.

The starting point

Laborious – a word that has been a fitting description of the production and supply chain within the clothing industry until now. 15 months sometimes pass between the development of an item of clothing and delivery to the stores. So there’s hardly any time to react to the latest trends or to reproduce top sellers. This is why items of clothing are often produced in large quantities from the outset. The result is heavily discounted items, which in the worst case scenario, can lead to financial losses. Excess production also means that valuable raw materials are wasted, which is not good from a sustainability point of view.

Added to this is the fact that the drafts produced by designers often do not reflect the wishes and requirements of the customers. Once produced and delivered, these products become slow sellers. Designers and the production sites are often continents apart. This makes it extremely difficult to communicate on matters such as design wishes and production options.

Clothing manufacturers who want to find and retain their customers in the clothing market in light of the current oversupply, must move closer to them to enable them to fulfill the wishes of the customers at the right time and with the right designs.

The future

“Fast Fashion” and “Microfactory” are the future. Many fast fashion manufacturers have already established themselves in the world of online retail and the traditional retail sector. For trend goods, this concept means that there is only a month or so between the design and the finished item of clothing. This is made possible by the production of small batches. The current customer requirements and the desire for individuality can thus be met quickly. Basic items are still mass-produced and are always available to the market.

Technically, the future holds a lot in store: In addition to digital product development and fully automated cutting, digital printing is also being further developed. In modern manufacturing, there are sewing machines that automatically perform applications such as buttonhole sewing or the sewing on of buttons. In retail, there are already fitting rooms that digitally determine the size of the customer's clothing. Customers can also browse through the product range in the store and put outfits together via a digital mirror.

A man standing in a digital fitting room

The fitting room of the future

The adidas SPEEDFACTORY

Adidas is leading the way in the microfactory field. In 2017, the sporting goods manufacturer opened the SPEEDFACTORY in Ansbach, Germany. Run by OECHSLER Motion GmbH, the production area covers 4,600 square meters. Only sports shoes are produced at the site – in a highly automated and fully networked process.

Previously, a series of studies examined the movement of a foot with the help of sensors. The robot-run factory processes this data based on an algorithm to adapt the shoe in line with these findings. The jury of the German Innovation Award also recognized that adidas is setting a milestone with this development and awarded it the title “Prime example of networked production” in 2018.

Around 500,000 pairs of shoes are currently produced in the SPEEDFACTORY in Ansbach each year. The short production time, the individual design and above all the close physical proximity to the customer enable the company to react extremely quickly to the wishes of customers and to bring the product close to the customer.

The SPEEDFACTORY currently only produces the “custom-made” sports shoe range “AM4” (Adidas Made For). The first shoe in this series was the running shoe “AM4LDN” (Adidas Made for London), which, as the name suggests, was specially designed for London. This was followed by the “AM4MN” (Adidas Made for Minnesota), which was launched to the market in time for the Super Bowl 2018. During the development of the AM4MN, foot scans and motion-capture technology were used to determine the movement sequences during a football game and to adapt the shoe individually to these requirements.

Apart from the customizable nature of individual small series, adidas sees many other advantages in the highly automated production sites. For example, sold-out product ranges can be reproduced faster or limited editions launched to the market with little effort. Customers may also soon have the option of designing their own individual shoe and sending in their design online. The shoe could then be produced extremely quickly in the SPEEDFACTORY.

At the start of 2018, adidas opened the second SPEEDFACTORY in Cherokee County in the US state of Georgia. Here too, the sporting goods manufacturer wants to move closer to consumers and react quickly to their needs. The reason: the significant growth that adidas has experienced in the USA over the past few years. As a result, it is obvious that adidas has increased its focus on the American market and designed the first shoe produced there specifically for running on the streets of New York – the AM4NYC.

With 74,000 square meters, the SPEEDFACTORY in Cherokee County is much larger than its counterpart in Germany. But adidas stresses that the SPEEDFACTORIES will never replace the main supply source completely, but will merely compliment it. According to the company, no more SPEEDFACTORIES are currently planned.

Into the future with Groz-Beckert

Groz-Beckert has also recognized that the future lies in automation and digitalization. This is why sewing machine needles from Groz-Beckert are produced with state-of-the-art technology and the efficiency in the production process is constantly improving. In the field of digitalization, Groz-Beckert relies on a modern sales process with various digital services and an online shop which is already available in many markets today.

Even in highly automated production, such as the adidas SPEEDFACTORY operated by OECHLSER Motion GmbH, broken sewing machine needles pose a risk. This is why the company relies on Smart INH to enable a digital and highly efficient response in the event of needle breakage.