Adidas and Nike boost their supply chain with 3D printing

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The gold medal for the world’s best sportswear brand by revenue in 2020 was Nike, with Adidas for the silver medal. Oregon-based Nike grossed $ 39.1 billion, while its German competitor grossed $ 25.6 billion. To earn these profits, these brands compete with each other to bring the hottest designs with the best performance to market as quickly as possible.

How did these companies get started and win the sportswear supply chain race?

Earlier this year, we reported that the 3D printing market is expected to quadruple by 2030, making it a $ 51 billion market. Nike and Adidas have turned to 3D printing to improve their sneakers and reduce production time.

Nike is inspired by the ancient Greeks

Originally called Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS), the American brand Nike was founded in 1964 by an accounting professor, Phil Knight, and a varsity track coach, Bill Bowerman. When the growing company changed its name in 1971, it took inspiration from Greek mythology: the winged goddess Nike personifies victory. In ancient Olympia, Greece, where the first Olympic games were held, there was a marble statue of Nike.

The “Swoosh” logo, designed for $ 35 by graphic design student Carolyn Davidson, was inspired by the shape of the goddess’s wing. It symbolizes speed, grace and triumph. Today, the logo is so iconic that it can replace the brand name and still be widely recognized.

While its sneakers are meant to allow athletes to perform at their fastest, Nike is also known for a fast supply chain that helps it win the athletic retail race.

Nike accelerates its supply chain with 3D printing

As early as 2013, Nike was interested in the advantages of additive manufacturing. His Vapor Laser Talon soccer cleat used a revolutionary 3D printed plate. This immediately inspired them to go on to create the Nike Vapor Carbon 2014 Elite Cleat. Next, they showcased their second 3D printed soccer cleat, the Nike Vapor Hyper Agility Cleat, which used Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D printing to embed small particles of material into a 3D shape using lasers. .

In 2016, Nike’s Zoom Superfly Flyknit took advantage of 3D prototyping to develop a sprint tip for a running sneaker that met the stiffness an athlete desired. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D printing took the process from weeks to days only, allowing for quick changes.

In 2018, Nike introduced the very first 3D printed textile upper in performance sneakers with Flyprint. Using computer design tools to analyze the athlete data it captures, Flyprint finds the right material composition for an athlete’s needs. Then he uses Solid Deposition Modeling (SDM) to create the rods.

More recently, in 2021, Nike’s Air Zoom Alphafly Next Nature began using recycled waste from the 3D printing process that develops its Flyprint and Flyknit upper material. This both improves durability and reduces the need for purchasing materials.

Nike’s Express Lane initiative, which began in 2016, has cut its supply chain timeline from months to weeks. This program uses rapid prototyping and 3D printing to bring the sneakers to market faster than traditional manufacturing methods. In 2018, the company confirmed that 3D prototyping made the process 16 times faster than previous methods.

Adidas generates its own electricity

Adidas, headquartered in Herzogenaurach, Germany, is Europe’s largest sportswear manufacturer. The company was founded in 1924 under the name Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory) by brothers Adolf and Rudolf Dassler in their mother’s house. Unlike today’s tech conglomerates, the brothers sometimes had to pedal a stationary bike to generate the electricity they needed to run their equipment due to the irregularity of electricity back then.

When they convinced runner Jessie Owens to wear their sneakers during the Berlin Olympics, he won four gold medals and Dassler Shoes sold a lot more shoes. But, after World War II, the brothers fell out and divided the business. Rudolf created Puma – today the third largest sportswear brand in the world – and Adi took over Adidas, which now owns the Reebok subsidiary.

The name Adidas comes from the name of its owner: Adolph was nicknamed “Adi”, and the “das” is simply the first three letters of his last name, Dassler.

The hallmark of the Adidas logo is its three stripes, and Adidas often refers to itself as the three stripe mark. Stripes have apparently been added for durability and variety. The company bought its logo from Karhu Sports, a Finnish sports equipment company that had experienced difficult times during the war, for “€ 1,600 and two bottles of whiskey” (euros would equal around $ 2,000 today. hui) in 1952.

While all three stripes have remained, the logo itself has gone through various iterations. In 1971, the company introduced the Adidas clover. The three leaves of the shamrock logo were meant to represent the three markets the company sold to at the time: Europe, North America and Asia.

The most popular Adidas logo today, however, is the triangle, or mountain, which was created in the 1990s. It symbolizes athletic performance and the rise to lofty goals.

More recently, in 2002, Adidas introduced a sphere for its sub-brand NEO. This is meant to appeal to a younger generation.

Sometimes the company just uses their iconic stripes. However, the General Court of the European Union has rendered a verdict that the three rods cannot be filed.

Adidas is heading towards 3D printing

Adidas turned to 3D printing to help it compress its supply chain and increase its mass customization capabilities. She embarked on additive manufacturing in 2014 and sought to overcome some of the early obstacles in 3D printing related to material restrictions and slow manufacturing speed.

In 2017, Adidas released their Futurecraft 4D. Together with Carbon, a California-based 3D printer manufacturer, they created “the world’s first high-performance shoes with midsoles made with light and oxygen using Digital Light Synthesis” ( DLS). The company eliminated the need for standard prototyping and used 17 years of operating data. Carbon’s DLS technology won out over the shortcomings in 3D printing that Adidas had previously struggled with. It took the process of producing a single midsole from 90 minutes to just 20 minutes.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, Adidas has still managed to innovate. In 2020, they unveiled the Futurecraft STRUNG, which has been described as “the quintessential 3D printed running shoe.” Working again with Carbon, they created a 3D printed midsole that uses performance data to individualize the shoes so that they adapt perfectly to the foot of each wearer.For this shoe, Adidas and Carbon have teamed up with the 3D printing company based in Belgium Materialize, which uses its data optimization software 3- matic to create a lightweight mesh upper that combines the flexibility the wearer wants with their need for strength.

While many companies have relocated amid the pandemic, Adidas actually closed its German and US speed factories in 2020. It has partnered with Oechsler AG, a German precision injection-molded parts company, to continue its 4D printing in Asia.

The competition continues

The Nike Swoosh and Adidas three stripes fade away from the competition, in part because of their investment in 3D printing. Today’s sneakerheads and athletes demand speed in the marketplace. In fact, Nike’s Vaporfly sneakers were banned from the Olympics when the product’s scarcity meant runners who managed to get them had a technological edge over those who couldn’t get their hands on a pair.

Technology will continue to develop to create shoes with superior performance, personalized products designed specifically for the highly individualized needs and preferences of the wearer, and fast, automated delivery.

Learn more about the role of 3D printing in the supply chain

Image Credit: TY Lim / Shutterstock.com

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