Adidas virtual designs save over one million material samples

The use of virtual technology in product design has saved adidas more than one million material samples as the company looks to ramp up 3D modelling across its operations.

The sports giant launched its Virtualisation programme back in 2004 as a way of not only injecting greater innovation into its designs, but to reduce its environmental footprint according to adidas’ team leader for creation technologies apparel, Renate Eder.

“During the product creation phase, an area where we can make a difference is to use virtual technology to share designs and sell in our products. This can save energy, materials, and waste too,” she explained.

Adidas first started out by investigating how the automotive and aerospace industries were showcasing their products using digital 3D technology. However applying it to ‘softer’ manufacturing such as footwear and clothing was not easy, Eder recalled.

“Sporting goods are not made of hard surfaces but are soft, draping and have complex textures,” she said.

“We are not just working on a handful of styles, but we produce thousands of different articles per year. This means that, in order to provide the virtual products, 3D models need to be created for every model and colour way on time and in the right quality.”

In addition, creating photorealistic images from virtual designs accurate enough for decision-making was a major challenge. Despite this, good progress has been made according to Eder.

“We have a smooth process established and all our core factories are trained and now capable of producing high-quality volumes of virtual samples.”

Eder adds that the immediate benefit of virtualisation is it allows adidas to continuously reduce the quantity of physical samples required to design and sell new products.

“Compared to 2010, when the initiative was given the full green light, we have been able to save more than one million physical samples.

“With virtualisation, we save resources and money by reducing material waste, transportation and distribution costs.”

The company is now looking at expanding virtualisation to other areas of the business, such as its retail operations where shoppers will be able to select products on a virtual shelf through touch-screens.

Virtualisation is the latest move by adidas to engineer out waste and other resource impacts by fundamentally rethinking its product design strategies.

Earlier this month Alexis Olans, senior global programme manager for adidas’ Better Place programme, spoke to edie about how the company is test-bedding product innovation through lightweighting and the use of bio-based alternatives for certain materials.

Maxine Perella

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie