LONDON (Reuters) - Adidas will open a new factory near Atlanta in 2017 largely operated by robots, part of a drive to shift production closer to customers and counter rising wages in Asia and lengthy shipping times. The sportswear company has already started work at a similar factory in the southern German town of Ansbach. The two factories are each expected to produce half a million shoes for running and other categories in the medium term. Founded by German cobbler Adi Dassler in 1949, Adidas had closed all but one of its 10 shoe factories in Germany by 1993 as it shifted most production from Europe to lower-cost Asia, particularly China and Vietnam. But advances in robotics and automation means that Adidas can now bring production back closer to customers to meet demands for faster delivery of new styles. "This allows us to make product for the consumer, with the consumer, where the consumer lives, in real time," brand director Eric Liedtke said, adding the factory would allow Adidas to customize more products for individuals. Rival Nike, which has faced criticism for using Asian sweat shops to produce its footwear, promised last year to create 10,000 jobs in the United States in the next decade by producing more in its home market. Nike has also worked to improve conditions overseas. Adidas has said the new plants would supplement rather than replace production in Asia, noting that Adidas currently makes about 300 million pairs of shoes a year and already needs to add two factories a year to keep up with current rates of growth. The new U.S. factory will create around 160 jobs and is being operated by Oechsler Motion GmbH. Adidas is also working with German engineering group Manz to develop new automated production technology. (Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Jane Merriman)
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