With the announcement that Adidas will be shutting down its much-hyped USA and Germany Speedfactories, highly automated production plants driven by robotics and 3D printing, and relocating them to Asia, the media has been quick to assign the whole endeavor as a failure.
The scale of the Speedfactory project was grandiose. The goal went beyond creating automated 3D printing factories that produced high-performance and customized shoes, to create a new manufacturing paradigm for the 21st century. One that reversed the tide of off-shoring, brought back high-wage jobs to aging economies, decoupled cost from complexity to allow new degrees of consumer customization, and greened the supply chain by relocating production from concentrated global pockets to distributed, responsive and local hubs. As the Economist wrote, “This factory is out to reinvent an industry.”