By Jörn Poltz
ANSBACH, Germany (Reuters) - Adidas will launch mass production of running shoes at a German factory operated largely by robots next year and plans to open a similar plant in the United States next year, the company said on Tuesday.
Founded by German cobbler Adi Dassler in 1949, Adidas had closed all but one of its 10 shoe factories in Germany by 1993 as it shifted most production from Europe to lower-wage Asia, particularly China and Vietnam.
But advances in robotics and automation means that Adidas can now afford to bring production back closer to customers to meet demands for faster delivery of new styles and to counter rising wages in Asia and lengthy shipping times.
The company gave journalists a first look at its new "Speedfactory" in the southern German town of Ansbach on Tuesday, saying large-scale production will start in 2017 after producing the first 500 prototypes for sale later this year.
"With the Adidas 'Speedfactory', we are revolutionizing the industry," said Chief Executive Herbert Hainer.
"Our consumers always want the latest and newest product – and they want it now."
Hainer said Adidas hoped to open a similar plant in the United States next year and expects the two factories to produce at least a million pairs of shoes a year combined within the next couple of years.
"In the medium term, you will see our factories in all major markets," he said.
Hainer said the new plants would supplement rather than replace production in Asia, noting that Adidas currently makes about 300 million pairs of shoes a year and already needs to add two factories a year to keep up with current rates of growth.
The new factory is being operating by Oechsler Motion GmbH and Adidas is also working with German engineering group Manz to develop new automated production technology.
The factory is expected to employ 160 people.
(Reporting by Joern Poltz, writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Keith Weir)