Context and challenge
Supply chain 4.0 presents itself as both the next great opportunity and challenge for companies in multiple industries, with the development procurement 4.0, smart warehousing, efficient spare parts management, among other dimensions1,2.
Figure 1 – The supply chain at the center of the digital enterprise – Strategy& analysis2
As companies focus increasingly on efficiency and sustainability as a source of competitiveness, 3D-printing can be a tremendous differentiator, allowing to transform manufacturing flexibility, drastically reducing development time, eliminating tooling costs and simplifying production runs, while at the same time making it possible to create complex shapes that weren’t feasible before3,4. As an early adopter of sustainability practices, both from corporate responsibility and efficiency perspectives, Nike continues to be one of the pioneers in this field, however, competition is not lagging behind5.
With the focus on sustainability and advancing its supply chain, Nike has developed and incorporated numerous technologies, ranging from raw materials sourcing to process and manufacturing6.
Figure 2 – Scaling sustainable innovation – Nike’s Sustainable Business Report6
One of its most famous technologies is the NIKE Flyknit technology, which has disrupted the traditional method of making shoes and enabled designers to microengineer every stitch of an upper, reducing waste by about 60% on average compared to cut and sew footwear. NIKE Flyknit has grown from one model in 2012 to 28 models across six categories in fall 2015, and has continued to expand, reducing nearly 3.5 million pounds of waste6,7.
Figure 3 – Fours years of Nike Flyknit – Infographic7
Nike furthered developed the Flyknit technology by pushing it to 3D-printing in the development of running shoes for gold-medal-winning American sprinter Allyson Felix. For the 2016 Olympics, Nike used research from its Nike’s Sports Research Lab, leveraging data, testing by Felix, and feedback from her coaches to precisely adapt the key elements of strength, fit and flex to Felix’s specifications and biomechanics. 3D-printing allowed to tailor the fit to the unique contours of Felix’s foot and preferences, reducing sampling time from weeks to days, enabling immediate feedback, quick iteration and, fundamentally, creating a better final product, completely customized for the athlete optimized performance8.
After over three years of innovation in the 3D-printing and Selective Laser Sintering space, Nike was in 2016 already able to make and tweak prototypes in hours, instead of months. In May 2016, aiming to take 3D prototyping to the next level, Nike announced a partnership with HP, shooting for a faster and smoother prototyping pace. Tom Clarke, President of Nike Innovation, said that the partnership would allow Nike “to accelerate and scale our existing capabilities as we continue to explore new ways to manufacture performance products to help athletes reach their full potential.”9.
Competition and next steps
For Nike to continue as a leader in sustainability and digital supply chain, especially in the 3D-printing sphere it will inevitably need to scale and show customers and competitors its commitment to an advanced supply chain, moving from trials to production at scale. Adidas has already taken some key steps in this direction, launching a sneaker with a 3D printed sole and plans to mass produce it from 2018, reacting faster to individuals’ customized preferences – from design and color to weight10.
Furthermore, this cannot be a single movement within Nike, but a broader organizational awareness, with skill development and implementation. EY suggests a four-step approach on how companies can create and spread this 3D-printing ecosystem4.
Figure 4 – 3D-printing four-phased approach – EY4
Finally, considering how 3D-printing could fit into Nike’s overall performance and strategic differentiation, it is crucial that Nike finds the way to integrate its many initiatives – from recycling materials, Colordry and Flyknit technologies and 3D-printing6 – towards a consolidated strategy. In particular, and bearing in mind it is a consumer goods company, Nike needs to think how to bring customers to the discussion5. If not careful, 3D-printing could lead to increase costs instead of realized efficiencies, leading to consumer disappointed, similar to what happened with its self-lacing Nike HyperAdapt 1.0 when it was announced to retail at $720 in late 20165,11.
In an organization with such a rich sustainability and innovation culture, alongside a great focus in product development and customer centricity, Nike needs to effectively communicate, both internally and externally, how its many dimensions are connected, and how they allow Nike to offer a more sustainable, efficient and high-quality product.
How can Nike integrate 3D-printing into its overall sustainability and supply chain digitization strategy, achieving cost and waste efficiencies? Should Nike scale 3D-printing into mass production to remain competitive? If so, when and how? How can Nike balance the tradeoffs and investments between cutting-edge athlete performance enhancement products and mass production, yet potentially less complex, affordable customization?
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1 McKinsey (2017) “Supply Chain 4.0 in consumer goods” Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/consumer-packaged-goods/our-insights/supply-chain-4-0-in-consumer-goods (Accessed: November 7, 2017)
2 PWC Strategy& (2016), “How digitization makes the supply chain more efficient, agile, and customer-focused” https://www.strategyand.pwc.com/reports/industry4.0 (Accessed: November 7, 2017)
3 McKinsey & Company (2014) “3-D printing takes shape” https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/operations/our-insights/3-d-printing-takes-shape (Accessed: November 7, 2017)
4 EY (2016) “If 3D printing has changed the industries of tomorrow, how can your organization get ready today?” Available at: http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/ey-3d-printing-report/$FILE/ey-3d-printing-report.pdf (Accessed: November 7, 2017)
5 Banks, A. (2016) “Who Is Winning the 3D Printing Battle in Footwear & Why?”, High Snobiety. Available at: https://www.highsnobiety.com/2016/12/15/3d-printed-shoes-nike-adidas/ (Accessed: November 7, 2017)
6 Nike FY14/15 Sustainable Business Report (2016). Available at: https://s3.amazonaws.com/nikeinc/assets/56356/NIKE_FY14-15_Sustainable_Business_Report.pdf (Accessed: November 7, 2017)
7 Nike (2016) “Four years of Nike Flyknit” Available at: https://news.nike.com/news/four-years-of-nike-flyknit (Accessed: November 7, 2017)
8 Nike (2016) “Nike Zoom Superfly Flyknit” Available at: https://news.nike.com/news/allyson-felix-track-spike (Accessed: November 7, 2017)
9 Nike (2016) “At Nike the future is faster, and it’s 3D” Available at: https://news.nike.com/news/nike-hp-3d-printing (Accessed: November 7, 2017)
10 Michalska, A., Thomasson, E. (2017) “Adidas to Mass-Produce 3D-Printed Shoes” Available at: https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/news-analysis/adidas-to-mass-produce-3d-printed-shoes (Accessed: November 7, 2017)
11 Pearson, D. (2016) “Nike’s Self-Lacing Hyperadapt 1.0 Is Releasing Next Month & Will Cost $720” Available at: https://www.highsnobiety.com/2016/11/14/nike-hyperadapt-1-0-price-release-date/ (Accessed: November 7, 2017)