Digitalization helps to bring sports shoe production back to France

For many years now, sports shoes have been synonymous with production in the Far East – and subsequently a large carbon footprint due to long transport routes. That’s changing. Textile manufacturer Chamatex Group is bringing sports shoe manufacturing to France with its ASF 4.0 (Advanced Shoe Factory 4.0). Siemens has been involved all along, starting with initial feasibility studies based on Tecnomatix Plant Simulation.

Even before the factory was built in the Ardèche region of France, it had to be proven that sports shoe production could be automated to the maximum and that it would be possible to manufacture in very large quantities. “It was also necessary to prove that we could make shoes at a competitive price,” says Gilles Réguillon, president of Chamatex. “And to have a competitive factory in Europe, we needed automation from Siemens.”

“Siemens’ role was to demonstrate the possibility of automating and digitalizing an industry that is traditionally very manual,” explains David Baillet from Siemens Digital Industries in France. The Siemens team employed Tecnomatix Plant Simulation to create a virtual factory. Several different scenarios could be tested to make the right design decisions. This phase showed that yes, it was indeed a credible undertaking to bring sports shoe manufacturing to France. Chamatex gave the project a green light.

Full automation for ASF 4.0

It was then time to get to the business of installing machines, most of which were patented by their manufacturers for producing shoes using automation. The machines have been equipped with Simatic S7-1500 controllers so that they can communicate among one another via the OPC UA open protocol. The SCADA system is based on Simatic WinCC OA (Simatic WinCC Open Architecture), which gives users access to production screens on browser-based clients. An agile working group that met regularly was instrumental in creating an interface tailored to the needs of ASF 4.0. Simatic WinCC OA is also essential because it gives Chamatex the flexibility to manufacture shoes for multiple brands – namely Babolat, Millet, and Salomon.

“With Simatic WinCC OA we could create an interface between enterprise resource planning, which centralizes strategic and operational information, and the piloting of the machines with performance indicators to monitor the state of production,” says Richard Chambellan from Customer Services at Siemens Digital Industries.

 

Scalance – the communication solution for all the technology in the factory – is at the heart of the OT (operational technology). And thanks to Sinema Remote Connect, maintenance and diagnostics operations can also be carried out remotely.

Transparency along the entire production chain

Numerous sensors (including Simatic RFID chips) have been installed throughout the production line, and the information is fed into the automation to inform operators about remaining steps in shoe production. Furthermore, they receive alerts in the case of malfunctions. The generated data also provides information on the batches – such as percentage of shoes correctly made – and the achievement of key performance indicators.

A model for other traditionally manual industries

A few days after the factory was commissioned, the first shoes rolled off the production line – Salomon’s Captiv models. By 2024, 500,000 pairs of shoes are expected to leave the factory each year. With a full order book for the next three years, Gilles Réguillon, already has his sights on expansion: He has announced that his company is working on a duplicate of the plant in the Ardèche region to double production. Not a problem, explains Richard Chambellan: “From the outset, all functionalities have been designed to leave room for multiple evolutions. If we want to add a new production line or to make further developments, it can be easily done.”

Plausible too is constructing a similar plant in other regions – like the United States, which is the leading market for the Salomon brand. The project could also serve as a blueprint for a digital transformation in other traditionally manual industries, like chocolate making or jewelry production.

 

The new factory could very well be the future for a whole range of consumer goods: local, agile production with a low carbon footprint.

 

September 2022