3D Brings Mass Customization Closer

By Catherine

Written by Catherine Bolgar

Two opposing forces dominate industry: cutting costs versus satisfying customers. In the future, those forces may be less opposed.

Shoes in shop window display

Mass customization has been the big objective ever since Stan Davis coined the term in his 1987 book “Future Perfect.” Up to now, industry has fallen short of promises to really customize products. But digital technologies and the spread of manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing are making more products customizable without adding huge cost.

Everything that’s digital is, in the end, very easy to customize,” says Frank Piller, professor of management at Aachen University in Germany and co-director of the Smart Customization Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Digital printing, for example, allows for customization too complicated or too expensive for offset printing.

Now, technology is improving and costs are declining for the next generation of digital printing: 3D printing. “It can be used for a larger range of materials. What you can make with 3D printing is extraordinary,” Dr. Piller says. “Companies can ask, ‘Now that I have this really flexible manufacturing technology, what else can I do with it?’”

On the B2B side, customization always has been necessary. Machine-tool makers traditionally had a large collection of catalog items and also a high-end engineer-to-order business. In between came mass-customized solutions, which have a predefined base of solutions whose options can be refined, Dr. Piller adds.

Very few industrial players outfit an entire factory with new machinery. “They have legacy equipment, so they need customization to interface that with new equipment, as well as for adding abilities their competitors don’t have,” he says.

To make the process easier, equipment tends to be modular, which is a common feature of mass customization. Customers have a variety of choice for a number of modules, allowing them to get what most closely fits their needs without the cost of an individually tailored solution.

Modular designs may allow for easy upgrades and add-ons, but they also risk opening a door for competitors to barge through. With an integrated product, “you have to buy it all from me,” says B. Joseph Pine, co-founder of Strategic Horizons LLP in Dellwood, Minnesota, and co-author of the book “Mass Customization: The New Frontier in Business Competition.” But forcing loyalty via integrated design is shortsighted. “The more modular the design is, the more you can deliver what’s best for the customer,” he says. “That’s going to be the winning play.”

3d printer printing white pieces

However, 3D printing and digitalization may change the need for modularity and allow truly unique solutions in the future, from machine tools to consumer goods, Dr. Piller says.

Rather than limit customer choice to the model, size and color of their shoes, a 3D printed shoe could be customized for fit as well. That might entail a one-time cost for a foot scan, Dr. Piller notes, but such a scan could then be used to make a collection of shoes.

While mass customization of consumer products hasn’t come as fast or as far as expected, one industry that’s coming around is apparel. “It’s for obvious reasons: every body is unique, so you can’t buy anything off the rack and get anything that fits anybody. It’s impossible,” Mr. Pine says.

There’s waste in the system,” he adds. Retailers discount, dump or recycle tons of unsold clothes. “They produced what people didn’t want. Mass customization allows you to produce on demand, so there’s less waste. It’s more environmentally sustainable. You eliminate shipping around the world stuff that you’re not selling.”

Rather than create a product in the hope that it will appeal to consumers, manufacturers using mass customization make a product they know a customer wants, because that customer has ordered it in the size and color the customer prefers.

“Instead of pushing what you have, the consumer pulls what he wants,” Mr. Pine says. Mass customization turns a good into a service. Goods are standardized but services are customized—delivered when, where and how a customer wants.

Businesses have to please a generation of individuals who are used to customizing everything—they don’t buy an entire CD of music, but just the songs they like, which they play in the order they like; they don’t watch broadcast television but stream the shows they want, when they want them. Facebook is a mass-customized platform—everybody has the same tools available on it, but each person makes his or her wall unique. Similarly, smart phones are a platform for mass customization because each person loads the apps he or she wants.

Technology is enabling customization to continue even after a thing is purchased. Sensors are being developed for all manner of products, from thermostats that adapt to how you use your home in order to help you reduce your heating bill, to lighting controls that allow you to create precisely the ambiance you want, to razors that adapt to the contours of your face.

This kind of customization is primarily in anything that can be digitized,” Mr. Pine says. “Sensors are going into everything.”

For more from Catherine, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join The Future Realities discussion.

Can 3D Technology Spawn Better Athletes?

By Alyssa

Sports performance

Over the last few decades, technological advancements in sport have been moving the benchmark of human limitations. Some ways are easy to understand: fiberglass poles became more flexible allowing vaulters to reach new heights; replacing wooden tennis rackets with ones made of fiberglass and graphite improved accuracy; swimming bodysuits were developed to reduce drag.

But while these advances may have been game changing at the time, a new era of technology has arrived that seeks to lift the lid off the secrets to our biomechanics and help push both professional and amateur athletes to greater heights.

In every sport, and at every level, companies are now supplying equipment, clothing and gadgets in a bid to revolutionize the way professionals and amateurs train, compete and recuperate.

Personalized Footwear

Sports performance

As an example, in recent years, a growing consumer appetite for customization has seen sports brands embrace technology in order to create the perfect footwear for individuals. While it is already possible to go online or into a shop to choose the color and design of shoes, 3D modeling and printing technology is now being used to mold and shape footwear for customers to create the definitive personalized design.

Next Up: 3D Modeling for the Masses

3D modeling sole

Although professional athletes have greater support and access to use and trial these kinds of technologies, Susan Olivier, vice president of consumer goods and retail at Dassault Systèmes, believes 3D modeling techniques will soon be readily available to the public.

“The cost and size of 3D scanning is going down dramatically. I can imagine in three to five years that before shopping we will visit a booth that scans our feet and other body parts. Then we can take the scan to our favorite sports outlet who will be able to design equipment, clothing and footwear to our specifications,” says Olivier.

Want to learn more? We invite you to watch the video below that shares some specific stories of  how technology is helping both professional and everyday athletes race towards perfection.

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You can also read more in an article that includes examples such as how Olympians like Usain Bolt are benefitting from 3D technology mapping human motion to help athletes gain split second advantage and at the same time protect themselves from injury.

NOTE: The video and article were first published as an Advertisement Feature on bbc.com running from 27th June 2014 to 5th September 2014, and was created by the BBC Advertising CommercialProduction team in partnership with Dassault Systèmes.

Modularity as the Recipe for Unique Products

By Olivier

Diversification is a popular word these days. It contrasts with standard, which does not inspire the memorable experience we seek from our products. “To buy or not to buy”, that is definitely the question. We consumers want to buy products that provide us with the most delightful experiences. This is one of the reasons brands constantly seek ways to satisfy our quest for uniqueness. Why have what everyone else has when we can choose something unique? Unique feature, unique design, favorite color. The reality is that demand for diversity is on the upswing.

But wait a minute. How many product variants do Industrial Equipment (IE) companies have to manage without sacrificing margin and ultimately their longevity? Just how many types of products do they have to produce to satisfy different customer preferences? These are complicated questions for companies still struggling with an Engineered To Order (ETO) approach that has them spending too many hours developing individual products. It is simply not sustainable.

There are, however, companies that have recognized the need to switch gears, from an Engineered To Order approach to a Configured To Order (CTO) philosophy. And they are doing this by embracing modularity. You will want to read the interview of Alex von Yxkull, president and CEO of Modular Management, and Johan Källgren, partner, from our first issue of Compass magazine, to understand the challenges and rewards of modularization.  If you prefer a live explanation, check out the video below in which Colin de Kwant, a consultant from Modular Management explains that in a world in which we want it all, customization forces manufacturers to address two conflicting objectives – simplify complexity and amplify variety. The companies with an ETO approach risk failing to deliver.

How to switch from ETO to CTO? Watch this:

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Modularity is the answer for IE companies that are looking for ways to ensure that product assortment meets customer requirements without inflating the number of managed parts. By reorganizing and rethinking the way products are developed and using common and interchangeable modules with predefined variants, modularity can pave the way to more innovation and timely delivery. 3DEXPERIENCE’s Simple Solution Selection helps IE companies diversify their product offering while minimizing the cost of complexity.

Keep your ears open; you haven’t heard the last of modularity… ;)

 



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