Robots Are Using Static Electricity to Make Nikes at 20 Times the Pace of Humans

grabit robot
Grabit robotic technology.
Courtesy of Grabit

While currently robots handle most of the shoemaking process, assembling a sneaker’s “upper” — the flexible part of the shoe that sits on top of your foot — remains beyond their capacity. While uppers look like a single piece of material, in actuality, they can be made of as many as 40 pieces that are stacked up and then heated to fuse together.

That said, four years ago, Nike Inc. invested in a startup based in Sunnyvale, Calif., called Grabit, which uses electroadhesion to help machines manipulate objects in novel ways. And in the past month, Grabit began providing facilities that make Nikes with a handful of upper-assembling machines that work 20 times faster than human workers.

Moreover, according to “Bloomberg Technology,” about a dozen of these machines will be operating in China and Mexico by years end, meaning that Nike could relocate manufacturing closer to the big consumer markets in the U.S. and Europe.

Nike’s Chief Operating Officer Eric Sprunk said in an email that Grabit “strategically fits with Nike’s drive to accelerate advanced manufacturing.”

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