It once was the norm for consumers to buy goods in standard specifications, for example clothes in different sizes and colours.
In the 21st century, consumers look to customise products or services on a large scale. Be it a greetings card, a new car or a pair of trainers, companies such as Moon Pig, Aston Martin and Nike now offer online customisation, allowing consumers to create personalised goods on the go.
The age of choice
We are leaving the age of mass production and now entering the age of ‘mass customisation’ within both the manufacturing and service industries.
At its core is a tremendous increase in variety and customisation without a corresponding increase in costs.
At its limit, it is the mass production of individually customised goods and services. At its best, it provides strategic competitive advantage and economic value.
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The need for a move towards a mass customisation form of production has been accelerated by the fact that millennials have grown up with the Internet and are used to its personalised delivery of information and, as such, are demanding a similar experience from personalised products.
The trend has already reached the high street, we no longer go into Costa Coffee and order just a coffee, but a primo soya flat white latte with vanilla.
Mass customisation is best described as “the capability to manufacture a relatively high volume of product options for a relatively large market (or collection of niche markets) that demands customisation, without trade-offs in cost, delivery and quality” by McCarthy, I.P. (2004) in “Special issue editorial: the what, why and how of masscustomization”.
In essence, it can be viewed as a collaborative effort between customers and manufacturers, who have different sets of priorities and need to jointly search for solutions that best match customers’ individual specific needs within the realms of a manufacturers’ customisation capabilities.
In today’s landscape, many commercial sectors, whether it be retail, service, technology, or manufacturing have started taking the likes and dislikes of the consumers very seriously.
Technology at the core
One of the main barriers for organisations has been the need to offer mass customisation whilst achieving a manageable cost structure and ensuring that each customised product that leaves the production line is of optimum quality. To facilitate this, technology is imperative.
Mass customisation requires flexible computer-aided manufacturing systems to produce custom output.
Those systems combine the low unit costs of mass production processes with the flexibility of individual customisation.
The need for agility
Software innovations in many products are instrumental in providing its customised look and feel.
Whereas the hardware will generally be customisable from a range of pre-engineered options that the customer can chose – such as from a configurator, which is widely used in the automotive industry.
The code within the software component will likely have several more variants.
Achieving mass customisation requires tremendous agility within the entire supply chain, not just at the manufacturing plant itself.
This puts a particular pressure on the need for all areas of it to be interconnected and able to talk with each other securely via the Internet of Things (IoT).
A long road ahead
With a multitude of product variations brought on by a mass customisation manufacturing process, there is a need to have robust software testing in place in all areas of the supply chain to help facilitate this paradigm shift in production.
Manufacturers, traditionally built around the physical manufacturing of their products, already have knowledge of how to test them from a hardware perspective.
However, mass customisation puts the software component front and centre, and many are not used to having to test the software processes that integrate with the hardware, their supply chain and external data sources.
It is an important step. With the variety that mass customisation brings, comes a variety of potential failure points.
The alternative is potentially releasing an untested product onto the market which is, at best, embarrassing, but at worst could be lead to a multitude of regulatory fines and untold damage to the organisation’s brand.
A shift in power
Within the ‘post’ mass production era we currently live in, consumers are in the position of power.
If businesses are going to react to increasing customer demand and stay ahead of the competition, they must act fast and move to a model of mass customisation.
Trends and consumer needs are continuously changing. Organisations must underpin IT systems with rigorous and regular quality assurance testing to fulfil demand.
Sourced by Colin Bull, principal consultant manufacturing and product development at SQS