Mass Customisation and production flexibility, why and what are the advantages?

Mass Customisation and production flexibility, why and what are the advantages?

Providing the ability to personalise the product or service purchased is a great way to increase customer loyalty and strengthen the affiliation with your brand.

In fact, customisation is a factor strongly valued by customers, as it allows them to have a unique experience when purchasing and to be able to choose a solution that perfectly meets their needs.

This strategy, known as mass customisation, allows companies to meet the requirements of the mass market and to focus on the specific needs of consumers.

Mass customisation, which on the one hand allows companies to focus on the need for uniqueness and expression of each customer, on the other hand brings the same organisations face to face with real operational challenges.

The 4 approaches to Mass Customisation

There are four different approaches to Mass Customisation, which are defined as collaborative, adaptive, cosmetic and transparent.

These four criteria define the relationship between the customer and the business unit, subsequently leading to the organisation of production.

There is no one method that is better than the other, in fact often within the same company a mix of some or even all four methods is applied.

Let us see them in detail and some possible examples.

Collaborative Customization

In collaborative customisation, the customer becomes a fundamental part of the creative process.

Therefore, the consumer will collaborate with a technician to customise the product before the purchase and production process.

An example of collaborative MC is the company Paris Miki, Japan’s largest eyewear retailer.

Paris Miki has developed a digital system that captures the image of the customer’s face, analyses its characteristics and cross-references them with information provided by the customer on the final desired look.

Adaptive Customization

This type of process allows companies to offer standard products, but which can be customised by the customer once purchased, according to their needs.

Adaptive customisation is perfect for those companies whose customers want a product that can adapt according to the occasion and allows them to customise it easily.

An approach that provides consumers with more flexibility and modularity.

A case of adaptive MC is offered by the lighting systems made by the US company Lutron, whose Grafik Eye System allows you to connect different lights and other devices in a room or building and programme or change the system setting.

Cosmetic Customization

Cosmetic customisation, on the other hand, does not concern the product, but focuses on certain aesthetic features, such as the packaging, allowing customers to partially modify the purchased item.

A case of particular interest is the strategy adopted by Planters, a US distributor of packaged peanuts. Having to meet the very different needs of its customers in terms of quantity of product per pack and type of promotional package, it reorganised its production so as to be able to modulate pack sizes, labels and design according to customer customisation choices.

Transparent Customization

In this case, the customer is not directly involved, but it is the company that provides a unique product after having carefully observed consumer behaviour, demands and choices.

Transparent customisation is ideal for companies that can easily predict consumer trends.

Companies that use this method do not interact directly with customers, but once they have observed behaviour, they personalise offers.

For example, ChemStation, a manufacturer of industrial detergents and supplier to car washes or cleaning companies, follows a transparent MC approach. It analyses the habits and needs of each customer, and custom-formulates the optimal soap mixture for the individual customer and sells it in standard packs.

Mass Customisation, what does it involve for production processes?

Once the information has been acquired from customers, the requests have to be transformed into inputs for production.

Production facilities, however, are sometimes not designed to support highly customised products and items. This is because traditional equipment and tools are used, without taking into consideration possible modular solutions, which are also derived from digital and automation.

Modular production, flexible processes, and speed in the production and delivery of finished products must become cornerstones to meet the demands of mass customisation.

Modular and Bespoke Workstations for Lean Manufacturing
Modular and Bespoke Workstations for Lean Manufacturing

Modular and flexible production

Having a modular production, creating complete and autonomous work units, makes the customisation of a product much easier in terms of time and costs.

Mass customisation generates a wide variety of products, with increasingly shorter life cycles, which is why it becomes essential to have highly flexible work cells in facilities.

Flexibility that allows companies to be able to adapt and reconfigure them as soon as there is a change in the layout of the production site or intralogistics processes.

A company able to organise its production processes in an efficient and modular manner will at the same time be able to be flexible and provide its operators with ergonomic and safe solutions, without affecting delivery times or the costs of changing the production system, regardless of market demands.

Practical examples can be found in the packaging or assembly stages, where it is essential to have solutions that can create a uniform and fast workflow.

Modular packaging workstation

Fast, indeed, because in order to meet mass customisation, waiting times must be reduced.

Reducing waiting times

To be quick, production organisation and planning alone are often not enough, but must be complemented by new digital technologies and automated systems.

Therefore, software can be integrated to allow customers to customise the product at the purchase stage, or 3D design systems can be integrated to help the consumer choose the article.

3D design systems for Mass Customization

These applications allow companies to speed up the customisation process, which has a positive impact on production, as you will be working on data that is acquired and known.

Speed also means having a flexible, fast and operator-friendly material handling system.

Automated handling enables production facilities to reduce waiting times and be faster in delivering materials to the end customer.

These include systems such as AGVs or AMRs, which can transport material in a just-in-time logic, optimising production processes.

AGVs for material handling

Solutions that must be easy to use, with intuitive interfaces for operators, so that they can be up and running quickly, saving work, time and even money.

Conclusions

Mass Customisation has caused and is causing changes in the market, including:

  •  More diversified products and more accessories
  • Lower sales volumes per product type
  • Shorter product life cycles

This affects companies, which have to organise and better manage warehouse space and production lines and deliver different product lines much faster and more frequently.

They are also forced to change their production site layouts more and more often in order to meet market demands.

To meet these challenges, companies must pay attention to the needs and tasks of the operator, considering him or her central in meeting the needs of mass customisation.

So here are some tips to facilitate and help operators in production and logistics processes:

  • Move and deliver materials to workstations just in time and with special kits, so as to simplify access to components for operators, reducing waiting time and the assembly phase.
  • To enable operators to speed up order preparation, workstations and the equipment on them must improve safety and ergonomics
  • Finally, every system, from workstations to trolleys, must be designed to be flexible and easily re-configurable.

Lastly, hardware structures and systems must be combined with new technologies for automation and digitisation of processes to ensure that mass customisation can take place smoothly, without errors and inefficiencies.