As automated technology — robotics — for textile manufacturing becomes more common, sportswear giant adidas is preparing to open its first robot-driven “Speedfactory” in the U.S. in Cherokee County, Georgia. Announced last year, the Speedfactory is set to open this fall; it will employ about 140 by winter of 2018.
This facility is the second Speedfactory thus far. Both are operated by adidas’ strategic partner OECHSLER Motion, which actually runs the facilities and the entire manufacturing process. The other Speedfactory is located in Germany, where OECHSLER is based.
So why Georgia? Neither adidas nor OECHSLER had a strong background or presence in the state until now.
It started in 2015, when adidas’ location advisory company met with officials from the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the Metro Atlanta Chamber and Georgia Power. In spring of 2016, Cherokee County, specifically an industrial area called the Cherokee 75 Corridor, was identified as a finalist in the site selection process.
The initial site visit “turned into hours of meaningful discussion,” according to Cherokee Office of Economic Development (COED) President Misti Martin. Martin says COED worked closely with the company throughout the multi-year process, from site selection to moving into the new building. Before the factory was ready, OECHSLER employees worked out of The Circuit, Cherokee County’s startup hub located on the County’s technical college campus.
“It was clear that the values of community and company aligned,” Martin says.
OECHSLER CEO Dr. Claudius Kozlik says the tax incentives implemented by Cherokee County to bring business to the county were a major factor. The Cherokee County Opportunity Zone allows companies located within an approximately 5,000-acre area to take advantage of the maximum state job tax credit of $3,500 per job created.
Georgia-based OECHSLER Director Justina Brown says that Georgia Quick Start, a program run by the state’s technical college program which provides workforce consultation and employee services, “offered invaluable training support.”
“The availability of workers, cost of wages, taxes and benefits, as well as regulatory affairs, were all factors considered in the decision for the optimal locations,” says Brown.
The majority of the roles staffing the Speedfactory are highly technical, including planners, engineers, technicians, and stitchers. They receive training in Germany in order to operate the highly-specialized, automated machinery.
The process, driven by intelligent robotic technology, is designed to be as agile as possible, making footwear in a much faster process than traditional factories and allowing sneaker lines to be adjusted and crafted specifically for the needs of different groups of consumers. The whole process might take as little as a few hours; sneakers made in the traditional way could take up to 19 months from conception to finished footwear.
The Speedfactory is also more sustainable than a traditional factory — it serves consumers closer to the facility (lowering the traditionally-high costs of transport, since the majority of current sportswear manufacturing is in Asia).
The 74,000-foot Cherokee County-based factory will focus on running footwear at first. These types of factories will still only produce a small percentage of worldwide total production (adidas produces about 300 million pairs of shoes a year, mostly in China and other countries in Asia), but speaks to an increasing focus of manufacturing on employing automation technology.
One forecast by Morgan Stanley suggested 20 percent of Nike and adidas shoes would come out of automated factories by 2023 — the report quotes an International Federation of Robotics statistic that claims 1.3 million new robots will be installed in factories over the next three years.
It’s a sector Martin hopes Cherokee County will continue to attract.
“Advanced Manufacturing is a target sector for the state and Cherokee. Their new technology embraces robotics and mechatronics. It is pioneering and could change manufacturing globally with its customer focus and speed to market,” she says.
“Having a global brand like adidas also helps Cherokee build its brand as a place to live, play, and work.”