Mass Customization With 3D Printing

Mass Customization With 3D Printing

Mass customization combines the low unit costs of mass production with the product uniqueness that job production offers. In the days of Henry Ford, mass customization meant allowing a customer to chose a car in whichever color they wanted.. as long it was black. Since Ford’s time, industry has advanced considerably and there are many more choices for consumers in what could be described as “configurable customization”, whereby customers can choose among a predefined set of options. For instance, computers can be configured to have the amount of RAM, storage, processing power, and screen resolution desired by the consumer. Dell famously pioneered this model whereby customers would custom order their computers online and Dell would then build and ship the computers to the customers.

While this is an improvement from the Model T, consumers still desire more options.  Rather than configurable customization, consumers increasingly want individualized customization.  Instead of having a predefined set of options to chose from, individualized customization offers a virtually unlimited possibility of options.  In a recent survey, 86% of millennials find mass customization appealing, 62% indicated that they would be willing to pay more for customization, and 29% stated that they were already customizing their mass-produced products themselves after the point of sale. 

With all this interest in customized products, this begs the question, what is holding back mass customization? The answer is cost; as mass customization scales, the manufacturing complexity becomes overwhelming and costly. However, this is beginning to change with new technologies such as 3D printing which can offer more manufacturing flexibility to produce small batches of completely unique products. Unlike other conventional manufacturing methods, 3D printing requires no tooling and offers a seamless workflow from 3D CAD design to physical product. With 3D printing, it simply becomes a question of identifying what customers value being customized and then building the physical product on-demand.

Identifying Customization Opportunities

The first step in mass customization is identifying the specific features that customers value being personalized. This goes back to the first step of the new product development process which requires companies to fully understand the intended users. Companies can use a variety of methods to engage with their users and understand what they would like personalized on their products. Technologies such as 3D printing further enhance this by enabling more customization options that can be offered to consumers than other conventional fabrication methods. Once customization opportunities have been identified, it becomes the job of 3D printing and other advanced manufacturing technologies to manage the manufacturing cost.

Managing Manufacturing Cost

One of the advantages of 3D printing is its ability to seamlessly integrate the CAD design that contains the customization data with the manufacturing workflow. Customers can simply specify their customized text, logos, features, etc. and the data can be transmitted to the 3D printer to build. This allows for the creation of a digital on-demand production system, whereby parts can be stored in a digital repository, pulled up and modified to the customers requirement, and then ordered and manufactured on-demand. The digitized on-demand system that 3D printing allows creates optimal conditions for utilizing mass customization in a cost-effective way. Such a system improves cash-flow and decreases risk as large batches of inventory that may never sell do not have to be produced ahead of time. Due to the requirement of tooling and other fixed costs, conventional methods need to produce high volumes of identical units to amortize their fixed costs across their many thousands of units. In contrast, 3D printing can rapidly produce parts on-demand after a customer places an order. Each unit, even within the same batch, can be totally unique to exactly match the customer’s needs and preferences.

Start Using Mass Customization with 3D Printing

Ready to start using 3D printing for mass customization? Contact ZABFAB to get started with mass customization!

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