Clarks announced a few days ago that it plans to put an end to “Morelight,” a pilot program for robot-assisted shoe manufacturing close to its global head office at Street, in Somerset. The company said it has started a period of consultation with its 70-odd workers to verify the viability of the project.
“Despite best efforts, we have determined that the levels of production and cost targets we hoped for will not be reached in the short to medium term,” said Clarks in a public statement.
The program, which was first unveiled in 2017, would have led Clarks to start manufacturing shoes again in the U.K. for the first time since it closed its remaining production facilities in the country in 2006, outsourcing most of the work to subcontractors in Vietnam and Cambodia.
Clarks announced its change of mind shortly after Nike called off a partnership with a Silicon Valley manufacturing company, Flex, which would have involved the construction of a $100 million shoe factory in Guadalajara, Mexico, near the U.S. border. Flex said the two partners decided to stop the project at the end of 2018 because it would not have been commercially viable.
On the other hand, Adidas remains committed to its experiment in local manufacturing through its highly automated Speedfactory project in Germany, which is partly financed by the German government, and New Balance has announced plans to open an advanced manufacturing facility in Methuen, Massachusetts.
The new plant, which is expected to start operations within the next 12-18 months, will complement the company's existing factory in Lawrence, also in Massachusetts. The new facility will include advanced manufacturing, R&D and 3D printing operations. New Balance already has five factories in the U.S. and one in the U.K., which services the European market.