The polyurethane machinery maker executive sees mass customisation in the retail sector becoming a big part of how people buy shoes in the future. This, along with high production flexibility, innovative design possibilities and improved performance, will be the focus of the footwear industry, Decker said in an 18 Sept interview at the Desma House Fair, held in Achim, Germany.
Desma, which makes machinery and moulds for both direct soling and unit soling processes using polyurethane, rubber, thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) and other thermoplastics, as well as injection machines for PU boots, presented its technologies and predictions for the future at the two-day event.
Desma, which made Euro37 million in 2011 and Euro38 million so far this year, exports some 85 percent of its products - 30 percent of this goes to Asia, 25 percent goes to Europe, excluding Germany, with 10 percent each going to North America, and South and Latin America.
In 2012, the largest market for footwear production is China, making 10 billion pairs per year, some 60 percent of global footwear production, but "this will not rise," Decker said. "In my opinion, China has no opportunity to grow any more in production capacity." Asia as a whole makes 80 percent of the worlds shoes.
Decker expects that by 2022, production will grow in North America (currently 2 percent), and Europe (currently 7 percent), where the main consumer markets are. In South America, places like Brazil, Argentina and Chile "are coming slowly," he noted, adding that there is potential in Africa and the near east but it is not stable so he did not include it in his predictions.
Decker sees this shift in production location as partly due to domestic brands "winning in importance," for a number of reasons. Fashion footwear is dictated, by trends which can change within a period of weeks, so companies need to have production easily accessible in order to respond quickly. Not having to deal with customs borders or currency fluctuation is also important.
Changes in China
In China, Decker predicts less expansion of production capacities but rather a change in philosophy: more automation, less stitching, new processes and more, and he said Desma is ready to meet these changes with its automation solutions. In the past two years, Desma had 12 automation projects in China and this number is rising. Decker noted that he anticipated this some 10-12 years ago and so the company was ready to respond to the need.
As most Chinese producers are making footwear for "the big OEMs like adidas and Nike, they really want to go forward in terms of trends such as 'green', carbon footprint etc." There is a slight switch from solvent-based adhesives to water-based adhesives, but also in improving solvent-based processes to make them more environmentally acceptable globally, and Desma is in discussions with Chinese customers about ways to do this.
At the moment in China, staff are trained to do one particular thing very well in order to keep quality high. A shoe that can be produced by one person in 12 seconds in Europe may take 22 seconds in China with 15 people working around the machine, each with a specific function. But in Europe, increased software control helps to ensure quality remains high. If a customer returns a shoe to a shop then information from the barcode can indicate "when the shoe was processed, which shift, which people, and which process cycle, and then they can see that, for example, there was a temperature deviation," Decker said. This allows producers to improve the process. Decker acknowledged that this relies on customers returning defective shoes but he noted that retailers are working on this, and that in 10-15 years, this may be a normal process.
Currently, the company has more than 30 automated processes that it is selling to its customers, both in China and across the world. Traditionally, shoe soles and uppers would be made separately and then bonded together, but Desma is working on the integration of these processes in one machine with automatic bonding, Decker said. "This is not a new idea, but it's growing more, and more processes are supporting us in this," he noted.
Decker indicated a fully automatic machine used to make wellington boots, which was on show at the fair. The machine uses a mould and one shot of polyurethane to make the whole boot. This approach is becoming more popular. The brand Crocs achieved commercial success in the last decade with its one-shot EVA clog, he said, though Desma has been doing this with polyurethane in Germany for many years.
In the footwear production chain, Desma is at the beginning. It supplies to the producer, "such as a Taiwanese company making shoes in Vietnam," who supplies to the OEM, who in turn supplies to the retailer, with the customer at the end, Decker said. He noted that Desma has interaction with the producers and the OEMs but that the company wants to develop its communication with the retailers in order to develop its concept of 'mass customisation,' where customers can obtain a tailor-made shoe in the shop. Though unlikely that an entire shoe could be made from scratch, Decker suggested that there could be options in terms of fabrics, colours and orthotics, which could be selected, then produced in the shop in a couple of hours.