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Can Under Armour Reinvent Customized Innovation with Manufacturing 4.0 Approach?

Posted By Paul Tate, July 19, 2016 at 9:08 AM, in Category: Factories of the Future

shoe.jpegSportswear maker Under Armour has come up with a new, Manufacturing 4.0-inspired, customized manufacturing model based on a powerful combination of creative design, rapid innovation, extensive digital automation, in-house strategic partners, and local production – all under one roof.

It’s called the Lighthouse, and the first site integrating all these functions in a single place was opened in the company’s hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, late last month. The 35,000 square-foot cross-functional, digitally-rich facility provides designers, developers and external partners with shared physical spaces and tools to create, build, test, and  “push the boundaries of what is possible”, says the company.

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank believes it’s an approach that could not only ‘reinvent’ the way apparel is designed, personalized, created, and delivered, but also “revolutionize beyond our industry the way product is made and [brought] to the consumer faster.”

The Lighthouse is designed as a highly-integrated proving ground for developing new, cutting-edge products, best practices, and efficient manufacturing processes using a series of on-demand advanced technologies. These include 3D design and body scanning technologies to help create individually-customized footwear and clothing with minimum waste; 3D printing and rapid prototyping systems with automated fabrication tools, and a state-of-the-art 5-axis simultaneous machining center; and robotics-ready pilot production lines so the company can identify how new product ideas will perform in full-scale production environments. 

It also houses a shared ‘Foundry’ makerspace and customized workspaces for entrepreneurial tenants. Among the many partners already involved in the new hub are The Dow Chemical Company, Huntsman, Lectra, Bemis, Epson, Desma, The University of Maryland's Engineering Department, body scanning company 3dMD, and others.

“We want the Under Armour Lighthouse to serve as a beacon to make products faster, more efficiently and solve problems [for our customers]” added Plank. “The technology that we are bringing to Lighthouse is nothing short of the absolute pinnacle.”

But the Lighthouse is more than just a one-off test-bed for innovative Manufacturing 4.0 ideas in Maryland. Under Armour also sees it as a potential production and innovation model for the future under its banner of ‘Local for Local’, which could see the deployment of a network of Lighthouse-type facilities serving local customers across its major global markets around the world.

“We are ultimately going to take it ‘local for local’ all around the world to make product, the likes of which the consumer has never seen before,” promises Plank.

Under Armour may have had to play catch up when it launched its first 3D-printed, limited edition sports shoe, the Architect, in May this year, following in the competitive footsteps of Nike, Adidas and New Balance. But it seems determined to get on the front foot in the race towards Manufacturing 4.0.

Written by Paul Tate

Paul Tate is Research Director and Executive Editor with Frost & Sullivan's Manufacturing Leadership Council. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Council's Board of Governors, the Council's annual Critical Issues Agenda, and the Manufacturing Leadership Research Panel. Follow us on Twitter: @MfgExecutive

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I applaud Under Armour manufacturing innovations. I would think this could be enhanced by engaging their employees as trusted business partners, supporting their manufacturing innovations with management innovations. Companies like Southwest Airlines, (a client of mine), treat their employees like trusted business partners, enabling them to make more money for their company and themselves. They consistently see both profits and engagement soar. This Forbes article provides more background: http://www.forbes.com/sites/fotschcase/2016/05/31/engage-your-employees-in-making-money/
These articles given examples of how this works in a manufacturing setting:
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