Sports equipment manufacturer Reebok is bringing some of its shoemaking back to the United States, unveiling plans to open a new manufacturing lab next year using innovative liquid material and 3-D drawing.
Some parts of the 300 pairs of shoes planned will come from Asia, but the most technical components will be manufactured in Wixom, Michigan. German chemical giant BASF developed with Reebok a liquid material that is drawn across the outsole of the shoe for a three-dimensional fit with the help of 3-D drawing. The material helps absorb shock.
"This is the very first use of this process to make athletic footwear. We borrowed and enhanced it from a process we found in the automotive industry," said Bill McInnis, Head of Future at Reebok. "The Liquid Factory concept is proprietary to Reebok."
All of Reebok's shoes were previously made in Asia.
"This is ultimately a local for local program. Once we define a manufacturing cell, we can do it anywhere," McInnis said.
In the short term, Reebok will only produce a small series of the shoes at the relatively high price ($189 for the first version) due to still expensive development costs. In the long term, Reebok hopes to use this technology to create a product with competitive prices.
"The Liquid Factory process is very flexible in that each machine can be used to create as many different concepts as imagination allows — it's programming, not molds," McInnis explained. "Scaling up is a matter of installing more Liquid Factory machine setups. The local manufacturing also gets us much closer to the consumer in terms of speed to market."
Reebok is not alone in localizing production. In May, Germany's Adidas announced it was opening a production site operated mostly by robots in the city of Ansbach, due to begin mass production next year. An Adidas site is due to open next year in the US.
Among other sports equipment makers, Under Armour has a small operation in Maryland geared toward athletes under contract with the brand, not the public as a whole.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2016