In today’s consumer-centric world of fast fashion and high performance, quickly adapting to changing preferences lies at the core of Darwinian survival. Companies that provide customized goods must enhance supply chain methodologies to allow for a faster go-to market strategy, thereby reducing lag-time between customer orders and delivery. Failure to do so would result in consumer demand moving in an unsynchronized manner with a firm’s production, thereby making it difficult to maintain or grow market share or even incur large capital expenditures for production, given the delay between investment and harvesting phases. A key question for managers is: How can companies become first-movers in how they supply highly customized goods to customers in the age of digitization?
At Adidas, management has embraced 3D printing as a means to shorten its supply chain and better match supply and demand, while providing superior durability and athletic performance. While 3D printing offers many benefits to Adidas in lowering R&D expense, accelerating its prototyping phase and providing higher quality trainers, such as those with “honeycomb” nano-structure shock absorption technology , this essay focuses primarily on benefits from post-design supply chain optimization.
In 2015, Adidas management introduced its SpeedFactory project, piloted in Ansbach Germany, which set to create several 3D-printing, automated production sites in various cities around the world to locally address its customers’ needs . In the short and medium term, Adidas hopes to tackle its traditional supply chain by harnessing the following principles:
- Just-in-Time (JIT) Production & Flexibility: By shifting the site of manufacturing closer to consumers and through JIT 3D printing with tiny white plastic beads , Adidas can manufacture without incurring large delays. Thus it can avoid large finished goods inventories of trainers that may quickly go out of style. Furthermore, the generic nature of the white beads as a production input allows its multi-purpose use across several shoe styles, thereby also reducing the raw material inventory. Adidas is set to begin production in 2017, eventually producing 500,000 shoes a year. 
- Lower Shipping Costs: Traditionally, different parts of the trainer were manufactured in different areas, then assembled and shipped to the consumer. A recent article states, “An order to replenish an existing, in-demand design…can take two or three months to reach shelves, unless the shoes travel not in a shipping container but a huge cost in the hold of an aircraft.”  By producing closer to the consumer through 3D printing with generic inputs, Adidas can avoid large shipping costs between various points in its supply chain. It will likely only incur the shipping cost for raw materials, since highest percentage of the shoe’s final production would occur at a local SpeedFactory site.
- More Efficient D2C Channel: At a local SpeedFactory, Adidas can design and produce its trainer around particular geographic conditions, such heavy-rain . This provides a higher-quality product with more variety, fewer delays, and better responsiveness to local consumer demand. Moreover, trainers can be on the market for a longer selling period given faster production.
In the long-term, Adidas could plan to de-centralize further, shifting to retail stores and other more intimate outlets allowing customers to customize and manufacture at the point of sale.
Adidas’ supply chain will drastically change given the initiatives it has undertaken. Given the above bottleneck and costs may be greatly reduced, the bottleneck may shift to the design phase, thereby creating a need to reduce or parallel process various design phase elements.
- Complement Data Analytics with Existing 3D Printing Technology: Using data analytics to discern particular trends may accelerate the time it takes to design the product, allow for more versatility in the product that can be printed or spot problems earlier in the supply chain, much like GE spotted in its jet engine components.
- Implant Sensors in Shoes to Discern User Activity: By understanding which designs lead to better performance based on user activity, Adidas can focus on harnessing designs quickly and can do so in parallel with one another.
- Adopt an Efficient Test & Learn Strategy: Adidas can put products out quickly and conduct A/B testing to discern which products are superior. The speed benefit from Adidas’ compressed supply chain can allow for better and faster testing and iteration, which can further set it apart from competitors.
A recent HBR article writes that in 500 days the hearing aid industry was able to convert to 100% 3D manufacturing . Failure to be a first-mover in mainstream production can be hard to recover from. While companies like Adidas, which require a fast time-to-market strategy, are embracing 3D printing, two aspects still linger. Can 3D printing become truly scalable and mass market for Adidas? Additionally, how will Adidas’ supply chain cope with cybersecurity and hacking threats?
 Katherine Bourzac, “3-D-Printed Sneakers, Tailored to Your Foot” April 7, 2017, MIT Technology Review, https://www.technologyreview.com/s/604058/3-d-printed-sneakers-tailored-to-your-foot/, accessed November 12, 2017.
 Adidas, “From Robots To Your Home: Adidas’ First SpeedFactory Lands in Germany” December 9, 2015, http://news.adidas.com/us/Latest-News/-From-Robots-To-Your-Home–adidas–First-Speedfactory-Lands-In-Germany/s/f4d890b6-e38d-4a32-b20d-ebc9683972ec, accessed November 12, 2017.
 Richard Weiss, “Adidas Brings the Fast Shoe Revolution One Step Closer” October 5, 2017, Bloomberg Businessweek, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-05/adidas-brings-the-fast-shoe-revolution-one-step-closer, accessed November 12, 2017.
 The Economist, “Adidas’s high-tech factory brings production back to Germany: Making trainers with robots and 3D printers” January 14, 2017, https://www.economist.com/news/business/21714394-making-trainers-robots-and-3d-printers-adidass-high-tech-factory-brings-production-back, accessed November 12, 2017.
 Stephanie Pandolph, “Adidas uses Speedfactory to localize shoe designs” October 9, 2017, Business Insider, http://www.businessinsider.com/adidas-uses-speedfactory-to-localize-shoe-designs-2017-10, accessed November 12, 2017.
 Tomas Kellner, “Big Data Meets 3-D Printing: Big Data to Monitor Laser-Printed Jet Engine Parts” June 4, 2013, General Electric, https://www.ge.com/reports/post/77209216443/big-data-meets-3-d-printing-big-data-to-monitor/, accessed November 12, 2017.
 Richard D’Aveni, “The 3-D Printing Revolution” May 2015, Harvard Business Review,
https://hbr.org/2015/05/the-3-d-printing-revolution, accessed November 12, 2017.
 Feature Image: Adidas, “FutureCraft.4D” http://www.adidas.com/us/futurecraft, accessed November 15, 2017.