polo boardshorts Under Armour vision for future manufacturing
Before calling it Project Glory, Under Armour executives batted around another name for a project launching next year to make products in local markets.
“Black Swan,” a reference to an old belief that no black swans exist because none had been sighted, seemed a fitting name for the brand’s vision for manufacturing’s future, said Kevin Haley, the company’s head of innovation. Because so much production moved offshore in pursuit of low cost labor, especially in the labor intensive apparel and footwear sector, many believe it will never come back to the United States.
“We chose to look at things a little differently,” Haley said. that with the right amount of innovation and technology and know how and the will to do it you can manufacture anything here.”
Those ideas formed the basis of Project Glory, an initiative the Baltimore based athletic apparel brand has explored for several years but only recently began discussing publicly. consumers, in Brazil for South American buyers, in Europe for European shoppers and in China for the Chinese market.
Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank made the case for a new headquarters campus to investors, sharing ideas for manufacturing facilities, innovation labs and sports fields that would go on land he owns in Port Covington.
“Everything we’re surrounded with is almost completely mass produced,” Fuchs said. “But modern technology is making it possible to change that and change the economics of production and make it possible to provide customers with uniquely tailored products .
Engineers, developers and designers new and current Under Armour employees and others rotating in from manufacturing partners around the world will collaborate on the project in the new facility. Their mission will be to develop and find ways to use advanced manufacturing processes to make products on a smaller scale in local markets while improving the products’ performance. Under Armour stores.
Advanced technologies will “reduce lead times, time in transit,” Haley said, “so the consumer gets what they want more quickly, more efficiently, and gets better products.”
For products that are designed in the United States but made in China, Vietnam or elsewhere in Asia, shipping times that typically stretch over weeks are sometimes extended further by labor disputes and other issues, said Ravi Srinivasan, an assistant professor of information systems and operations management at Loyola University Maryland’s Sellinger School of Business and Management.
“One of the things that happens is now suddenly what was supposed to take two to three weeks may be stuck at a port several more weeks,” Srinivasan said. “When you consider companies like Under Armour or Nike, or any fashion industry, the timing is really important. You need to have the right product at the right time available. That’s challenging . specifically industries like fashion and electronics, because of how fast tastes change.”
Making goods locally makes companies not only more nimble in supplying inventory and reacting more quickly to changing tastes, but better able to respond market by market and to customize merchandise,
Srinivasan said he would expect Under Armour to continue offshore production for some products, while establishing local production for others.
As of last year, the brand’s apparel and footwear were made by 29 primary manufacturers in 14 countries, with 65 percent of products made in China, Jordan, Vietnam and Indonesia.
A shift toward local sourcing and materials in Baltimore can only help the city and its manufacturing base, bringing well paying jobs with benefits, said Drew Greenblatt, president and owner of Baltimore based Marlin Steel Wire. The company makes wire baskets for factories in 39 countries, buying steel and other raw materials from American suppliers and making all its products at its Southwest Baltimore plant with the help 30 employees and state of the art robotics.
“A lot of companies are re evaluating whether it makes sense to put your next factory in Shanghai or to put your factory in America. We’re thrilled that Kevin Plank is starting this initiative,” Greenblatt said of Under Armour’s founder and CEO.
The ripple effect on the local economy from a $3 billion company that’s projecting to hit $7.5 billion in sales by 2018 could be enormous, he said.
“When he buys from locals, he helps the local community,” Greenblatt said. “If Under Armour is buying from local manufacturers, in all likelihood, the local manufacturers are going to hire locals, and it’s really going to help the local community. . as opposed to China, Baltimore City will be a huge winner.”
Using technology and robotics to improve efficiency represents the future of manufacturing, he said.
“The alternative is extinction,” he said. “If you don’t invest in technology, employees don’t have the best tools. If they don’t have the best tools, employees are not competitive. There’s no choice of bringing back the old style jobs. That’s gone. The future is high quality, highly engineered jobs running fancy robotics and fancy automation. I believe in the American manufacturing renaissance. It’s going to happen, and it’s happening.”
Under Armour already has launched several products made possible by the advanced technologies it envisions using more of in the future, Haley said.
The Speedform running shoe, introduced last year, is not made in the conventional way, with 150 to 200 people touching each shoe as it moves down an assembly line, but instead through a partnership with a lingerie factory that used 3 D molding to create the shoes.
The result is a shoe without seams, designed for comfort and a more precise fit and made with less labor,