Mass Customization

On this site I would like to talk about mass customization and later on maybe a bit more about other forms of digital manufacturing. So in my first blog post I would like to discuss a bit in depth what mass customisation is and in later posts give and discuss examples.

Mass customisation is the automated manufacturing of bespoke products. That does not mean that every process and everything exceptional and a bit too far out of the ordinary is handled completely automated. But to me, mass customisation means that the big mass of similar products is produced automatically.

And there is another thing. Not only production has to be automated, order processing has to be automated too. This can go over the whole supply line, so if a window manufacturer can mass customise, then the glass manufacturer that delivers the insulation glass units (IGUs) has to mass customise too. In fact this is a good example for mass customisation. This industry can mass customise for a long time already, and we have been lucky to provide the software for many such projects over the last twelve years.

In the window case the process can start with the architect exporting the window specifications from his drawings and send them electronically to the window manufacturer. The window manufacturer will then add his data, for example profile types and IGU specifications and order with the glass manufacturer. IGU sizes are calculated automatically by the window manufacturer’s software. Because the window manufacturer knows his supplier’s pricing model, he can quote automatically. The same happens at the glass manufacturer and if they have to order special glass in, then that goes automatically to another glass manufacturer too.

When released for production all production data goes to the machines and production is managed automatically. Not everything is automated though, for example nonrectangular shapes are cut automatically on the glass cutter, but broken out manually. Because this is a small part of the overall production and a process that’s difficult to automate, this is a reasonable way to approach this.

So this is my take on mass customisation. To make it work and to be competitive with standard size mass produced goods, one can charge a premium for customisation, but not a fortune. Thus all products within a regular size and shape range must be produced with a degree of automation as high as possible. More often than not this manufacturing infrastructure then allows with little extra effort to produce goods a bit further from standard with only little additional manual intervention. In the glass case almost everything except breaking out a nonrectangular piece is still automated, including quoting and order processing.

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