Adidas aims to open automated shoe factory in Germany in 2016

The logo of Adidas, the world's second largest sports apparel firm, is pictured in a store in Munich March 4, 2014. REUTERS/Michael Dalder

MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) - German sporting goods maker Adidas aims to open its first fully automated shoe factory in Germany next year, part of an effort to bring manufacturing back closer to its consumers in more affluent countries.

The sporting goods maker signed an agreement to obtain technology from German engineering group Manz that will allow it to design and make custom-tailored shoe components in a new type of automated plant it calls “Speedfactory”, Manz said on Tuesday.

Adidas has been working with the German government, academics and robotics firms on new technologies it hopes will trigger a significant a shift in the footwear industry as the move led by its arch rival Nike to produce in Asia decades ago.

Adidas wants to speed up delivery times to fashion-conscious customers and reduce freight costs.

The project fits with a broader drive by Adidas to catch up with Nike, which has extended its lead as the world’s biggest sportswear firm in recent years with innovative products such as its “Flyknit” shoes made out of machine-knitted fiber.

Key to moving footwear manufacturing closer to Western markets are technologies that cut the need for workers to piece together shoes.

As part of that initiative, Adidas unveiled a 3-D printed running shoe sole this month that can be tailored to a person’s foot.

Adidas will open its first “Speedfactory” in the southern German town of Ansbach near its Herzogenaurach headquarters in 2016, a spokesman for Adidas said.

Adidas’s other partners in the project are Johnson Controls, robotic assembly expert KSL Keilmann, the Technical University of Munich’s fortiss institute as well as the University of Aachen’s ITA RWTH textile technology institute.

Reporting by Joern Poltz; Additional reporting by Anneli Palmen; Writing by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Keith Weir