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adidias-Salomon : thinkdesign

adidas-Salomon, the second-largest sporting goods provider in the world, designs, manufacturers, and markets hundreds of products including footwear, apparel, hardware, skis, snowboards, ski boots, inline skates, hiking boots, bike and golf equipment, as well as a myriad of other products for many activities. adidas-Salomon is headquartered in Herzogenaurach, Germany. Additional key business units are based in Oregon, California, France, and Hong Kong.

Showcase on shoes
The Portland, OR office is dedicated to footwear design and new product R&D. According to Joe Piedmont, adidas 2D/3D CAD manager, engineers and designers at the Portland facility can design up to 60 totally new shoe styles in a single year. "Our customers are the internal adidas footwear designers, footwear project managers, and marketing staff. They provide the design concepts and we make sure the designs are manufacturable."

That's no small feat. Shoe designs are organic. There are no straight lines or key reference points. "For us," adds Piedmont, "the biggest challenge is working outside the traditional box-like shapes. Our focus is on very curved, very detailed, complex surfaces and solids. The traditional comparison to the complexity of footwear 3D models is the automotive industry. However, the intense sculpting and fine detail seen in our higher-end product definitely increases the difficulty associated with creating the digital prototypes."

For every shoe design, Piedmont's team strives to maintain design intent and technical accuracy while working under tight production deadlines. Cycle time from conceptualization to shipping product can vary from 12 to 18 months. However, of that time, Piedmont and his team have only four to six weeks to execute all the digital prototypes. After the digital prototypes are finalized in Portland, the product goes into production in Asia for up to one-half to three-quarters of the cycle time.

"While we do work under short deadlines," adds Piedmont, "that's just part of the job. The most challenging objectives maintaining design intent and technical accuracy are more important. In most scenarios, the designers ask us for a certain shape or particular design. It's our responsibility to determine if that particular shape or design is manufacturable. In those instances, our expertise and the right tools come in handy."

Running from 2D to 3D
The adidas CAD team uses think3's thinkdesign for 3D digital prototyping and another commercial software package for 2D drafting. "We used to be a 2D-only shop," notes Piedmont. "And before using CAD for our 2D work, the drafters completed the projects by hand." The company realized that this traditional methodology was causing a lot of time-consuming rework. adidas wanted to reduce the number of design interpretations. "Our current process regarding 2D is that our 2D drawings are sent to Asia and then re-worked or interpreted into 3D models. For us, this process does not optimize our workflow as it forces our sub-contractors to redo work instead of re-use it. Today and in the future, we will send 3D digital prototypes to show manufacturing exactly what we want to see as a return part not interpretations of what we originally sent. The 3D digital prototypes communicate exactly what we expect in return. The opportunity for error is reduced and we get to market faster with a better product." adds Piedmont.

Piedmont and his team have been using thinkdesign since March 1999. "Since we started using thinkdesign, we have successfully completed many difficult projects and have provided our factories with accurate data from which tooling can be made," says Piedmont. "We anticipate recognizing even more benefits as we take on more 3D projects and as communications improve between our internal groups and also between R&D (domestic) and manufacturing (overseas). We believe that we will see a reduction in the number of required sample molds, less travel to confirm tooling, fewer revisions, and other advantages. We believe that we are pioneers in an industry that has a reputation for not moving quickly enough to embrace new technology. We are applying products such as thinkdesign to help us develop a more efficient design process while maintaining design integrity and technical accuracy. Those are ambitious goals in a fiercely competitive global marketplace."

The adidas CAD team has used thinkdesign on several projects since implementing the software. Most of them involve incorporating five to seven nested parts together. While that may not sound difficult, Piedmont says this is indeed a tricky task. "thinkdesign is essential to completing these project. The technology offers intuitive functionality that helps the engineers create the various designs, style lines, images, and concept reliefs on the shoe. These efforts are very difficult using traditional design methodology."

Lacing up
Prior to implementing thinkdesign, adidas evaluated most of the popular commercial MCAD products. adidas selected thinkdesign based on three factors: ease of use, cost, and think3's willingness to work with adidas in developing a process. "Think3 was the only company that admitted that it didn't know anything about designing shoes," notes Piedmont. "They said, 'Tell us what you need. If we need to modify the program and add special functionality for you then we will do that.' Every other company pretended to know what designing shoes was all about. Thinkdesign was the only product that performs to our specifications, and think3 was the only company willing to work with us to help determine our process."

Once thinkdesign was implemented, the learning curve was very fast. "It's easy to pick up the functionality of the program, however, the learning curve for footwear is longer," says Piedmont. "In fact, we are probably still in the learning curve. In all fairness, it probably takes six to 12 weeks to acquire the proficiency to create complex 3D models, and up to one year to develop the skills needed for footwear digital prototypes."

In just the short time that adidas has used thinkdesign, the company has already realized a timesaving in obtaining sample parts from manufacturer suppliers. "It's a little early for us to state quantifiable numbers, however, we have recognized greater design accuracy, reduced turnaround times for sample molds, and a newly discovered passion for fusing engineering and design in 3D."

Since the implementation of thinkdesign, the relationship between adidas and think3 has flourished. The two companies meet bi-annually to discuss new technology and future product releases.

Author: Laura Carrabine

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Page last modified on February 17, 2000
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