Nike Revolutionizes Manufacturing Through Innovation and Automation

As Nike and Flex explore the next phase of Nike’s manufacturing revolution initiative, the opportunities for how the sportswear giant designs and ultimately makes its products for athletes around the world are exponential.


Business Objective 

To meet customer demand, Nike needed to slash the wait time for customized footwear from weeks to days. Manufacturing personalized shoes with traditional die cutters and hydraulic presses created large amounts of material waste and long wait times. Building on a successful past partnership, Nike returned to Flex to revolutionize its manufacturing processes.
  1. Customer
  2. Product
  3. Services
    Laser-cutting technology, manufacturing





“Flex has already brought some really great, innovative ideas for how to do things differently, helped us rethink some processes, and asked us, ‘Why do you do it that way?’'

—Eric Sprunk
Chief Operating Officer




Improving quality through experimentation

Because Flex didn’t yet have a background in footwear, it designated a team to learn the requirements and processes for making shoes and began experimenting with techniques that could improve quality. The team embedded itself with one of Nike’s manufacturing partners to learn the craft, ask questions and leverage its outside-the-industry perspective on improving factory practices. The team tested how different materials, threads and even colors respond to automation, perfecting each of its formulas.

The Nike team had tried using lasers to cut their soft fabrics, but as they cut, laser beams mix with oxygen to leave burnt edges on soft fabrics. Flex engineers and chemists invented a process whereby any material, soft or hard, can be neatly laser-cut — without leaving burnt edges — into whatever pattern is needed, whenever it’s needed, right on the factory floor. Laser-cutting scaled down the amount of equipment needed to create a typical shoe.



Automating the factory line to speed production

Flex also developed a new way to get the cloth to the cutting machines. In the past, bolts of fabric had to be moved, unfurled, cut up, then pulled off the factory line and moved elsewhere, all of which required time, labor and equipment resources. To solve this challenge, Flex invented a robotic bolt holder that automatically feeds the line based on a specific shoe model and size.

Nike offers customized shoes through its NIKEiD website and is working with Flex to develop more efficient methods for making personalized orders of one rather than batching them by the thousands. Flex laser machine innovation can go from digitally cutting size 13 pieces to size seven pieces, without interrupting the factory-line flow – bringing Nike closer to its goal of faster turnarounds for custom orders.