“History is one long processional of crazy ideas1” remarks Phil Knight in his autobiography on the creation of Nike. Since its founding in 1964, Nike, an American sportswear company, has transformed the industry, with 2018 revenues of $36.4bn, up 6% from 20172. Committed to embracing technology and innovation, the company has incorporated 3D printing into its manufacturing processes with the aim of producing products that continue to support athletic performance3. With the potential to reduce mass production times4, additive manufacturing is essential to Nike’s continued success.
As the capabilities of 3D printing advance, it is essential for Nike to utilize rapid prototyping and digitally optimized design. Within the supply-chain, rapid prototyping can be used to accelerate development processes while reducing costs5. As Nike partners with athletes to understand their evolving needs, management can produce shoes and test them at a more rapid rate. This quick feedback loop will reduce the time it takes for Nike to bring a shoe to market. Since rapid prototyping allows Nike to continuously adjust small aspects of the design and receive feedback on each adjustment, shoes will go through more comprehensive testing than before, in turn increasing customer satisfaction. Additionally, digitally optimal design will change product development by allowing Nike redesign products in an easy and cheap manner, leading to faster production times, improved quality, and increased consistency amongst products. Taken together, these initiatives will allow management to accelerate and improve processes while reducing costs and remaining competitive.
With its first jump into additive manufacturing, Nike worked with track and field Olympian Allyson Felix to engineer Flyknit6, a 3D printed shoe that increased dynamism. To maintain its focus on 3D printing the short term, Nike will commercialize this shoe and its newer model Flyprint7. More importantly, Nike will continue to make process improvements and reimagine designs as it gets feedback from top athletes. Through 3D printing, Nike can escalate its precision and speed by prototyping six times faster than previous 2D methods. The reduction of time to produce this shoe comes at a limited cost to Nike as the process improvements, such as using specific lines of material, do not deter from global construction and processes currently in place7. As the product development cycle accelerates and turnaround times are reduced, Nike will be able to get its shoes to market at a faster rate. In the medium term, management at Nike will focus on project manufacturing revolution or “ManRev,” which aims to seek the benefits of additive manufacturing by increasing speed to market and enhancing customization capabilities8. The goals of this project are twofold: to heighten margins by lowering materials and manufacturing costs and to enhance the speed of innovation. Management estimates that product testing, which currently takes weeks or months, could soon take days or hours9. As Nike continues to improve efficiency and scale its processes, 3D printing will impact how Nike makes profit. The growing trend of additive manufacturing will result in Nike shifting its sources of profit from production to design8. With this shift, Nike will intensify its emphasis on design thinking and hire individuals that specialize in this space.
In addition to utilizing additional manufacturing for shoe production, Nike should apply these techniques to its apparel lines and work towards decreasing throughput time and decreasing cycle times for its clothing brands – specifically its sportswear brand. Sales for sports fitness and clothing in the US are projected to reach $231.1bn by 202410, and the ability to manufacture products at a rapid speed could increase Nike’s market share. The company should also look to partner with a technology manufacturing start-up who can instill some of its knowledge into Nike’s processes. 3D design platform CLO11 use 3D printing and AI insights to alter fashion designs on the fly and in turn elevate customer satisfaction. By partnering with companies who specialize in additive manufacturing for fashion, Nike can expand its capabilities at a faster rate. Lastly, Nike can use its athletes as marketers and spokespeople for 3D printing. This new wave of manufacturing will easily appeal to early adopters, but to sufficiently market to the early and late majority, Nike can use brand sponsors such as Serena Williams, LeBron James and Christiano Ronaldo to educate consumers on the performance benefits of 3D printed products.
As Nike’s management combines design, technology and innovation to catapult the brand into the future, embracing additive manufacturing is essential. While management has tactfully employed short and medium-term plans to reimagine design, improve processes, and reduce manufacturing times, it is unknown how the company will react to the actions of competitors and if mass customization is possible. How will Nike distinguish itself amongst competitors such as Adidas, who are also using additive manufacturing? Will Nike be able to use 3D printing for mass manufacturing and mass customization, and if so when?
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1Phil Knight, Shoe Dog (New York, NY: Scribner, 2016), p. 5.
2Nike, 2018 Annual Report, p. 71, https://s1.q4cdn.com/806093406/files/doc_financials/2018/ar/docs/nike-2018-form-10K.pdf, accessed November 4 2018.
3“At Nike the Future is Faster and it’s 3D,” press release, May 17, 2016 on Nike website, https://news.nike.com/news/nike-hp-3d-printing, accessed November 4, 2018.
4 D. Spaeth, “3D Printing is Changing the Face of Multiple Industries,” ECN: Electronic Component News, 61, no. 9 (October 2017): 21-23, http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezpprod1.hul.harvard.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=9926301c-be37-490a-9483-025e51f60c64%40sessionmgr4006m accessed November 4, 2018
5Deloitte & Company, July 2015, “3D Opportunity for Product Design” https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/focus/3d-opportunity/3d-printing-product-design-and-development.html , accessed November 7, 2018.
6“Nike Zoom Superfly Flyknit” press release, March 16, 2016 on Nike website, https://news.nike.com/news/allyson-felix-track-spike, accessed November 4, 2018.
7“What is Nike Flyprint?,” press release, April 17, 2018 on Nike website, https://news.nike.com/news/nike-flyprint-3d-printed-textile, accessed November 4, 2018.
8Bradley Seth McNew., “Nike Inc.’s “ManRev” Project — How Nike Plans to Shape the Future of Manufacturing,” The Motley Fool, (October 2016). https://www.fool.com/investing/2016/10/27/nike-incs-man-rev-project-how-nike-plans-to-overha.aspx, accessed November 4, 2018.
9McKinsey & Company, January 2014, “3-D printing takes shape” https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/operations/our-insights/3-d-printing-takes-shape, accessed November 7, 2018.
10“The Growth of Sales in Sportswear,” press release, August 10, 2017 on Business Insider, https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/the-growth-of-sales-in-sportswear-1002249734, accessed on November 4, 2018.
11“The Future of Fashion: From Design to Merchandising, How Tech is Reshaping the Industry,” CBSInsights, (February 2018). https://www.cbinsights.com/research/fashion-tech-future-trends/, accessed November 4, 2018