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These three types of mass customization are upending the traditional manufacturing model

Mass customization refers to a trend in marketing and manufacturing that allows customers to select and modify specific features of a product or service to meet their needs, while still retaining the low per-unit cost that comes with producing items en masse.

Historically, mass product customization and personalization have been difficult to achieve at scale. However developments in manufacturing technologies and techniques have enabled production teams to economically create sets of interchangeable part components that are similar but not identical, allowing customers to mix and match to their liking. A number of industries — including the fashion and apparel, healthcare, and automotive sectors — are already leveraging the benefits of the Industry 4.0 mass customization model, and many others are likely to follow.

In order to remain relevant and competitive, mass customization options must fulfill a functional or aesthetic need, and in many cases, the configurable elements are tied to consumer biology or taste. Mass customization in healthcare, for instance, connects consumers with personalized products based on their dietary needs or DNA, while fashion companies are now able to deliver pieces fitted to a customer’s unique measurements, while also allowing them to select the fabric type, thread color, or collar shape and other features.

While it’s critical for product teams to have a clear understanding of the specific elements consumers want to modify — which should in turn drive product configuration options and pricing — there are additional considerations that must be taken into account.

The mass customization model, explained

Mass customization can be applied to products in three primary ways: customization, personalization, and serialization. Each of these methods requires different workflow considerations for effective implementation.

Customized products are those that allow the consumer to choose from a range of predefined options for specific components — when purchasing a new car, for example, customers may be presented with options regarding color, features, and finishing details. The desired configuration is then applied to the base model of the product.

This typically requires specialized software that includes a customization interface — in which the consumer can make their selections — that integrates with an ecommerce platform. This integration provides a seamless experience for the customer while simultaneously delivering a customized CAD file or other practical instructions to manufacturers for proper assembly.

Dental aligner mass customization
Orthodontic retainers and aligners, for instance, must be tailored to the specific shape of an individual’s mouth in order to fit properly.

In contrast, personalized products are engineered from the ground up to meet the specific requirements of each customer. Orthodontic retainers and aligners, for instance, must be tailored to the specific shape of an individual’s mouth in order to fit properly.

Personalization requires many of the same workflow elements as customization, but instead of selecting from a set of predefined options, customers provide entirely unique inputs in order to create the product. In the case of orthodontic aligners or personalized bicycle seats and garments, the consumer’s biometric data is used to construct CAD files and products that match desired shape, dimensions, pressure points, etc.

Finally, serialization refers to the practice of incorporating an element into each product to make it unique — the most common example being serial numbers, which can be found on items and goods ranging from bank notes and appliances to firearms and electronics.

serial number mass customization
Serial numbers can be found on items and goods ranging from bank notes and appliances to firearms and electronics.

In their most basic form, serialization workflows require a means of automatically updating the unique identifier, which can be accomplished easily through the use of sequential numbers or alphanumeric codes. However, developments in the Internet of Things (IoT) now enable product teams to build unique codes or matrices into each product, allowing for more efficient tracking or data retrieval — including for customized and personalized items.

Supply chain considerations and the role of additive manufacturing

Additive manufacturing plays a critical role in making mass customization possible. Each of the mass customization examples listed above relies on workflows and supply chains that allow engineers to quickly and cost effectively produce the required variations in part size, shape, finish, and color — which traditional manufacturing processes are not particularly well-equipped to deliver. Additive technologies, on the other hand, allow for part designs to be configured digitally without the need for expensive tool changes or manual adjustments based on consumers’ input variables.

And while additive methods provide an ideal solution for manufacturing customized, personalized, and serialized parts, doing so increases the complexity of supply chain management in a number of ways. For instance, traditional supply chains only require a single number to be associated with each part, but custom and personalized products are not identical. Each configurable element requires an additional set of unique identifiers to ensure that the product is assembled from the right components. This often presents a significant hurdle for companies with established supply chains.

The good news is that design software built specifically for mass customization can help manufacturers automate these workflows and seamlessly manage custom inventory and unique product identifiers.

Get started with mass customization manufacturing

The success of the mass customization model depends in large part on the flexibility and speed that additive manufacturing provides via methods and techniques like CAD modeling and rapid prototyping.

The popularity of mass customization is growing — and Fast Radius is ready to rise to the challenge. Our digital manufacturing capabilities allow us to develop and produce on-demand, customized parts at scale, with fast turnaround times and competitive pricing. Our team of experienced engineers, designers, and technologists work closely with each of our customers as full manufacturing partners rather than simple service providers, ensuring that each job is accomplished as efficiently as possible and that the results are accurate and reliable. Contact our team today to learn more.

Learn more about how additive manufacturing is changing what’s possible in modern manufacturing at our resource center.

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