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beginning to explore its potential since it has the power to do great things,
provided a well-executed overall strategy, business model and logistics are all
in place. Marketer and author, B. Joseph Pine, in a recent Business Week interview,
predicted that given some time, he expects upward of 50% of companies to offer
mass customization services to their customers. An early proponent of mass customization,
Pine has researched and written much on this topic since the early 1990’s.
Of course mass customization is suited to some industries and companies better
than others. Businesses should not even consider this venture unless their resources,
human and otherwise, are set up in a business model that is conducive to it, and
they have invested time, effort and capital in setting it up properly or else
it will likely fail. Nor do companies that offer mass customization services have
to forsake offering standardized products and services; they can integrate both.
Why should companies consider setting up this model now, or moving to it? Consumers
are slowly, but surely, taking the reins in regard to fashioning their own experiences
with brands. Joseph Pine has described mass customization as a niche for companies
to become part of the new “experience economy”. Customization enables
consumers to become participants in designing their own products or services.
Since so many customers enjoy the process of consumption, it could be argued that
they derive even greater pleasure and value from customizing their own products.
The implication is that mass customized brands are then experienced at a very
Today’s youth are accustomed to personalizing their own experiences, from
the Internet to their mobile phones. They are customizing their toys, games and
even their clothing. Some of the hottest kids’ brands include myTego, American
Girl Place and Build-a-Bear for that very reason. With new generations of young
consumers who are accustomed to, and demand the gamut from personalization to
mass customization from their brands, is there any doubt that as adults, they
will expect the same?
As companies engage in consumer research, they are finding out that their customers
are increasingly making unique and less predictable demands on products and services,
thus making it more challenging to meet their diverse needs and desires. Part
of customer fulfillment may include finding ways large and small to allow consumers
to customize products to conform to their needs and personal preferences. This
enables every company that becomes a mass customizer to handle specialized requests
on a large scale. By making the customer part of the finished product design process,
great perception of added value can develop, especially if that process is seamless,
well designed and well managed.
Several factors have come together to create more impetus for considering mass
customization now. Firstly, ready-made products and services have less appeal
to customers than ever. Many consumers are becoming niche buyers within categories,
making ready-made products less and less appropriate for the very “masses”
that mass production was created for. It’s also becoming much more challenging
to gauge customer demand, preferences and articulated specifications in this time
of myriad marketplace choices and accelerated, shorter consumer product cycles.
Secondly, globalization has brought on greater competitive pressure in a relatively
short period of time for many companies. Category saturation and commoditization
are accelerating. National boundaries have blurred; every company that has an
Internet site has a potentially global presence. Large corporations have staked
future growth on their ability to establish their brands in developing markets.
Trying to impose a “one size fits all” mentality in numerous markets
and for so many segments within markets, is probably not the answer to long-term
success. The Internet makes it possible, for companies large and small, to offer
standardized and customized products and services compatibly, or to merely offer
Thirdly, there’s a substantive difference in trying to gauge consumer needs
and desires through marketing questionnaires or focus groups and actual order
fulfillment. Some consumer needs and wants may be articulated through pre-product
development research. Then again, they may not.
For companies that offer customization services, customers’ actual orders
bring forth actual data on consumer preferences, and some of those may have gone
unarticulated through prior research simply because the customer didn’t
consider specific options beforehand, or they didn’t know they wanted a
particular component or feature until they saw that it was available. Also: pre-marketing
research can be tainted by panel and questionnaire biases, making them less reliable
than one-on-one company-customer interface.
Fourthly, top line growth and bottom line profits are a major concern. Premium
pricing afforded by mass customization can and should lead to more profitability
if the customer order fulfillment network is efficient, responsive and highly
adaptable. Crucially important, too, is the effective flow of communication among
company employees, throughout the supply chain and with the customer. Mass customization
brings this to the fore.
Lastly, more flexibility and rapid response time to changing marketplace needs
and demands are absolute “musts” for long-term sustainability. Being
closer to the customer, and getting a constantly updated pulse on marketplace
trends, yield great rewards. Mass customization, by its very nature, is extremely
flexible. Companies that offer customization services can continually reconfigure
their networks to turn products around smarter, faster and more profitably than
their competitors. They can position themselves to utilize the expertise of suppliers
and input from customers to bring the new product or service components the consumer
is looking for to market before their competitors can. Speed, heightened responsiveness
and continuous adaptability make it much more difficult for competitors to copy
and commoditize the customizing company’s products.
How Mass Customization Works.
Organizationally, companies that specialize in mass customization should be set
up as network structures. That is, all of the resource units within such a company
must be loosely paired. These units can be comprised of company personnel, teams,
industry-specific software, back office processes and/or manufacturing equipment,
depending upon the company, its resources and its industry sector. Compare this
to mass producers that are set up as pre-aligned, pre-engineered business models
offering specific, manufactured products by employing fixed, stable assembly lines.
In the customization model, all material and information flows have to be flexible,
and organized in modular units.
Network structures are very flexible by nature. They permit the flow of materials
and services, as needed, between company units, making it possible to produce
a wide variety of end products for customers at efficient, cost-effective levels.
By changing internal processes, mass customization is possible. By partnering
with great resource providers in the supply chain, and setting up a generalized
production line, reconfiguration should be flexible and fast in response to changing
customer needs, by only making slight modifications to the basic line. It should
be cost effective and it will be if company resources are set up to be continually
Network structures have to operate seamlessly to be highly efficient. A system
has to be developed whereby information flows quickly from customer to order taker,
suppliers, internal personnel, work teams, production capabilities and back to
the customer. Obviously, with such a fluid network, efficient operations and effective
communication flow, the relationships between company resources and teams can
and should be very dynamic. A system that is set up to be continually reconfigured,
should cause very little, if any, internal friction.
Key for companies is the capability of customizing products for each customer
by utilizing mass components that can be configured into numerous finished products,
and tailoring the end products with efficiencies that approximate mass production.
The way to accomplish this is through modularity. By keeping an inventory of interchangeable,
modular elements on hand, customers can select the specific options they need
or prefer and companies can assemble them quite efficiently.
A high level of customer interaction is critical in the mass customization model.
Companies have to be prepared to engage in ongoing communication and customer
service. While this is important for every company, it is even more crucial for
mass customizers. For this to work from the customers’ standpoint, a number
of criteria must be met. There has to be good communication, expertise in answering
questions and fielding problems to customers’ satisfaction. Enough choices
must be available within each component group, without an overwhelming number
of options, so that customers can design the niche products that really “fit
the bill” for them.
While premium pricing is expected and perceived to be “worth it” to
the customer, there has to be efficient order fulfillment within a reasonable
time frame, or the value perception warranting higher pricing diminishes dramatically
if this process takes too long, according to the findings of The Customization
Experts Project, funded by the EU through the Leonardo da Vinci Programme.
121Time Swiss Watches presents a great example of a mass customizer with a well-designed
Internet site, www.121time.com. Consumers can go to the web site and select very
casual, business and elegant watch styles and then customize every component of
the basic style they choose: movement, case, bezel, dial and hands, crown and
strap. Customers can also build watches from scratch rather than pre-selecting
and customizing a specific model. 121Time also invites customers to further personalize
their timepieces with symbol and text engraving and upgrades; all easily selected
from menus. Lastly, wrist sizes can be noted so that the customer’s watch
is truly customized in every respect.
As changes occur due to new technology, innovation or fashion demands in the marketplace,
engineers and designers must respond with new modular components that are compatible.
New design software, network teams and strong supply chain relationships make
it possible to continue to update and upgrade components to give customers the
features they truly want.
Apparel, as well as functional, high-end athletic footwear also responds to fashion
trends, new design and innovation. NikeiD® furnishes a great example of mass
customized products that are subject to these changes. A trip to the NikeiD®
web site, www.nikeid.com, offers customers an interesting, easily navigable experience.
Consumers select a basic athletic shoe in plain white or in one of the pre-set
color palettes, and customize their selection by making their own color choices
and names, favorite icons, or player numbers if they wear them as members of sports
teams. While costing about the same or a bit more than athletic shoes purchased
in a store, consumers are accustomed to paying premium prices for highly supportive
cross trainers, running, basketball, soccer or track and field shoes. Paying for,
and getting, shoes designed to customers’ own specs is pretty gratifying;
they can truly say they designed their own athletic footwear. Note that Nike has
been, and continues to be, in the business of offering standardized athletic footwear,
but the company has now added a site that allows consumers to design shoes to
their own specifications. Proof that established companies with standardized products
and services can compatibly add a customized business component to their businesses,
The Upside of Mass Customization.
What kinds of rewards can be reaped for companies that offer mass customization
services? For one thing, these companies can gain a competitive edge and significant
differentiation from their competitors.
Some consumer product companies have leveraged mass customization and made it
integral to their overall brands. Dell has always been considered a prime example
since the company’s business model has always been based on mass customization.
The company is available to its customers 24/7 to answer questions and enable
them to order the components they want and need in their personal computers. The
technology giant has always configured computers to the specifications of each
customer who buys directly from them, if they prefer to take that route rather
than purchasing stock models directly from the company, or in electronics outlets.
Tech support is, likewise, available 24/7 for Dell customers. Although there have
been a few notable glitches recently, Dell has always provided exceptional customer
While Dell has had its challenges of late, including increased competition and
falling PC prices, the company is retooling itself since Michael Dell returned
to the helm in January 2007. The company is pushing the innovation envelope, and
exploring new markets. As it reorganizes, Dell continues to sell mass customized
PCs directly to its customers, and expects to regain its dominance in the marketplace.
Mass customization can be utilized as a powerful tool to drive customer brand
loyalty. Customers who stroll into Starbucks can order coffee drinks in myriad
ways from their local baristas. Added to this is the experience Starbucks delivers
to its customers within uniquely designed environments. In a recent Business Week
interview, Robyn Waters, trend watcher and former vice-president of Trend, Design,
and Product Development at Target, claimed: “There are purported to be over
19,000 ways to order your coffee drink at Starbuck’s.” There can be
no doubt that Starbucks aficionados are accustomed to having their favorite java
concoctions customized to their taste, and this factor along with consistently
great experiences, has made Starbucks’ customers incredibly loyal.
It can even be argued that Starbucks’ devotees have transcended mere brand
loyalty to become true brand advocates. With more competition on the horizon,
and the growth of cash-infused, expansion-minded Dunkin’ Donuts, Tim Horton’s
and even McDonald’s which have all seen increased volume in their coffee
businesses, Starbucks must continue to deliver what its customers expect: a highly
customized product with many more choices, within a uniquely crafted environment.
There also has to be a perception of greater brand value for Starbucks’
patrons to continue to pay higher prices there than at its competitors’
Offering the high level of service and “uniquely designed products”
implied by mass customization, allows companies to command premium prices. When
the consumer is part of the process, a greater perception of value and enjoyment
further cements customer to brand. While not custom-made in the traditional sense,
mass customization enables consumers to have products tailor-made to fit their
needs and desires, hence these kinds of products are less price-sensitive. Customers
expect to pay more for customization, provided quality, customer service thresholds,
and as cited previously, efficient order delivery are met or exceeded in their
view. In fact, many consumers will spend more if they are part of the process
and have options. Moreover, adding to the consumer’s overall experience
in a deeply satisfying way is the greatest value any brand can deliver. How much
is that worth?
Customization allows mass producers to service customers in niche markets; something
that their competitors are not able to do if they mass produce products without
offering customization services. Due to the tremendous amount of segmentation
in today’s markets, being able to offer perceived niche products, and products
that solve specific problems, is a great advantage.
Service Providers as Mass Customizers.
While many consider mass customization to be the bastion of consumer product companies,
service providers can and do offer customized services for their customers, as
well. Citibank, for example, enhanced its Internet site in 2002 in order to provide
easy navigation and access for consumers, as well as small business and corporate
customers. Citibank provides information and access to its numerous retail banking
and financial services, enabling all of its customers to set up a customized home
page, dubbed My Citi, based on their personal preferences and needs. In this way,
consumers, private and business customers both, can set up their “home pages”
with the content they really need, and in a layout that works best for them.
At Citibank’s Internet site, customers can review their Citi card and bank
account activity and see their balances, make express payments, pay bills, transfer
funds, view online statements, receive wireless and e-mail alerts, and receive
information about exclusive offers for Internet customers. They can also apply
for lines of credits and loans and access Smith Barney and Cititrade® services,
where they can review their brokerage accounts, buy and sell securities, screen
stocks, conduct research and do financial planning. The ability for private and
business customers to have access to up-to-date information on their credit card
and bank accounts, as well as their portfolios is a great service.
While a staggering breadth and depth of services are available at a large financial
institution like Citi, they have been humanized, made more accessible and more
personalized by the corporate giant’s Internet site. With individual home
pages set up to access only the information and services they truly want and need,
Citibank has succeeded in offering mass customization services to its customers
on a very large scale.
Likewise, stock brokerage Schwab has found a way to offer both online and off-line
services and integrate operations. Due to the significant investment Schwab has
made in electronic and technological innovation, online brokerage services have
become the preference for a large percentage of its investor clients. Unlike some
online discount brokers, Schwab clients can get information or assistance via
a phone call or a visit to a local branch office, as well.
Because Schwab has made IT a focus in its organization, the brokerage has been
able to offer services in anticipation of marketplace demand in a consistent manner.
Flexibility and dynamic networks have been put in place because Schwab is catering
to a variety of investors. By offering a full menu of financial services online,
great accessibility to the markets and customized investment advisory services
at relatively low cost, Schwab has become a powerful mass customizer for investors.
By offering personalized services at competitive prices, Schwab has been able
to position itself as differentiated from high end brokers and deeply discounted
brokers alike. Schwab offers “one-on-one investment guidance for all”
enabling the firm to customize its many services and offerings for each client.
The web site also offers assistance to manage client portfolios, or assist in
the management of them.
More and more service organizations, from banks and financial institutions, brokerages
and insurance companies are customizing and diversifying their offerings for their
customers, and making the back office processes as easy and painless as possible
to facilitate these operations.
Designing the Experience.
The Internet has made so much possible for companies that want to provide a mix
of standardized products and services as well as full mass customization as Dell
has done. Or, to become fully customized in their offerings as 121Time Swiss Watches
has done. As is the case with most business models that are conceptually new,
there will be struggles and failures among some of the companies that set themselves
up as mass customizers. For other companies, adjustments will be made along the
learning curve, and modifications to their models; or additional flexibility and
adaptability will be built into their networks over time.
There will also be notable successes like Dell, Citibank and Build-A-Bear, but
as business leaders know, even strong, well-run companies are not immune from
making mistakes, contending with slow-downs and even reversals. In spite of this,
it is inevitable that entrepreneurs and established companies will likely increasingly
experiment with this model in numerous sectors and some will become thriving businesses.
Mass customization need not be the province of corporate behemoths, either; small
companies are being launched using this model every day.
While many companies and their brands provide their customers with consistently
positive experiences—few transcend their categories to become powerfully
differentiated leaders. Mass customization is one consideration for companies
that wish to provide very personal service and potentially deeply satisfying experiences
to their customers. When customers become part of the process in designing their
own products or services, they also design their overall experiences with the
brand in question. They have done more than touch the brand; they have made the
brand an integral part of themselves, experiencing it on a very deep level.
The companies that become leaders in connecting with the customer in this new
“experience economy” in such a profound manner can achieve deep customer
loyalty as well as true sustainability. And that is the ultimate goal of every
Ted Mininni is president of Design Force, Inc., www.designforceinc.com,
a brand identity and package design consultancy. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Left® Shoe company is a good example of a manufacturer who supplies their customers with a product, and also delivers a service because of process. The company provides custom footwear over the internet. The process begins with a detailed scan of the client’s feet. This must take place at a participating dealer, currently only available in Europe and Asia. Once the details and measurements of the clients feet are entered into the system, the customer can specify desired shoe design, color, leather type, outsole and lining via the website. The shoe is made to order, and the customers “signature”, name and customer number, are imprinted into the right shoe. The custom-made shoes ship 3-weeks from time of order.
Excerpts from the Financial Times Published: March 7 2007. The shoe that is sure to fit --By Peter Marsh.
Mr. Fonsen runs Pomarfin, a Finland-based shoe producer that is setting up a new line of business offering customized footwear over the internet.
Mr. Fonsen's vision is intriguing. In his plan, shoe shops around the world purchase or rent specialized scanners to measure customers' feet with great accuracy. The details are passed to Pomarfin's headquarters in Pomarkku, Finland, then sent to the company's main shoe factory in Estonia where the footwear is made to specification. Once a person's details are on file, any further orders are made according to their personal measurements.
"It would be too expensive to make each shoe as a one-off completely from new," Mr. Fonsen says. "So we have found a way to put together the shoe reasonably cost-effectively from a number of basic building blocks in an example of ‘mass customization'. The customer benefits from getting something that is made just for him."
The end user, or purchaser of goods, would be included at the inception phase of an object. A consumer’s specific personal demands will instigate production. The designer would listen to the wants, needs and desires of the consumer and then articulate the design to the manufacturer. The designer’s skills add value to the concept and leads to realization. A manufacturer adds value by processing raw materials into finished goods. Raw goods can remain in a state of flexibility and are only processed on demand, reducing waste and redundant overhead costs.
The ability to exchange large quantities of information efficiently and quickly through technology allows these processes to take place and reduce the traditional barriers of entry into the marketplace. Additionally, Bruce Sterling and Scott Klinker have envisioned a future where technology can tracks objects called “spimes” from birth to recycling to re-birth, or cradle-to-cradle, production. View this video online.
(Images of Context Furniture’s chair illustration and first chair)
Context Furniture's belief in mass customization started with a very simple principle. Founders Bryce & Kerry Moore wanted to make a simple chair, but not just any chair. It was a specific chair design they would draw again and again in graphic illustration programs on their computer. They bemoaned the fact that they didn’t live in the “future” where they could input the design into a computer and a machine would output the chair or it’s components. The more they questioned why this wasn’t possible, the more they realized it might be – by using a combination of panel materials and CNC cutting methods.The concept of taking a simple two-dimensional graphic like a chair profile and producing an object was inherently exciting. There seemed to be no limits to what their imaginations could conjure in 2D and could be fabricated in 3D.
(CNC router working on a flat plywood panel.)
The pair started drawing multiple versions of the same design. In the stool variation, for example, all designs shared the seat pan, but different outside profiles changed the look and function of the object.
(The Narrative Collection stool variations
This was their first taste of mass customization. They launched the 14-piece Narrative Collections with the excitement of sharing this process with the world.
The repsonse to the Narrative Collection was positive, however the inherent understanding of the customizable process was hard for the consumer to grasp. Context decided to use a historical reference yet same modern process to explain their idea. The William & Mary Collection, which uses a iconic turned furniture leg as a flat graphic, was something the public could relate too. At this point the company also moved away from a solid process to component based constructions that allowed for even greater customization by mixing and matching parts.
In 2005, Context began working with Scott Klinker, 3D designer in residence at Cranbrook Academy of Art. Klinker approached them with his flat-pak ready to assemble designs. His concept and design approach dovetailed perfectly into the Context Manufacturing processes. Bryce and Kerry Moore’s dream of designing and manufacturing in a digital-to-digital process, one where a digital design is manufactured directly into a usable good, was fully realized. Currently, over half of Context Furniture’s production is based on design customized to client’s specifications.
LOS ANGELES - Whitney Houston's death -- or rather, the crude comments made
about Whitney Houston's death by on-air personalities John Kobylt and Ken
Chiampou -- have prompted a number of changes at Los Angeles radio station KFI
In a memo "to the Los Angeles Community" issued Thursday, the radio station
noted that it has enacted new policies -- and will continue to enact new
policies following public criticism over the comments.Replica Watches
According to the memo, the station said that Kobylt and Chiampou -- of KFI's
"The John and Ken Show" --- will undergo cultural sensitivity training, along
with "key staff and management." The station said that the training will further
Kobylt and Chiampou's "awareness of the cultural melting pot that is Southern
On a broader scale, the station said it is reviewing its talk formats and
"will find a platform for auditioning a diverse group of local hosts and
"While our plans are still developing, we anticipate creating unique
programming to reflect important issues to our multi-cultural community. This
will be a great launching pad for identifying talent for future opportunities,"
the memo reads.
The station also said it will be working with members of the community to
"update guidelines for our on-air hosts in a way that is helpful in a live
unscripted environment," and will "expand on its successful internship program
to target minority students."
Kobylt and Chiampou sparked outrage -- and earned a week-and-a-half
suspension -- in February when, days after Houston's death, they made a number
of on-air comments that many considered inappropriate.
Among the comments, the pair called Houston a "crack ho," said she had been
"cracked out for 20 years," and wondered of her death, "Really? took this
The pair apologized in a statement issued by the station that also announced
the pair's suspension.
"We made a mistake, and we accept the station's," Kobylt said. "We used
language that was inappropriate, and we sincerely apologize to our listeners and
to the family of Ms. Houston."
(Editing By Zorianna Kit)
Allowing materials and processes to help guide design is critical in understanding mass customization. Industrial equipment cutting flat panels is nothing new, but understanding how process effects efficiency and then makes objects easier and less expensive to produce is critical. Below is an example of Context Furniture’s material handling for the Truss Occasional Table and Kids Chairs.
Lumber and Laminator
Sheets of 18mm (3/4”) Baltic birch plywood are sent to the laminator. The laminator needs the wood, the color laminate (which the client can spec from any color available) material backer, masking paper and glue. The masking paper is applied to the laminate via a pinch roller. The stacks of material are set on a glue spreader conveyor; the boards are glued together in the appropriate order and cold pressed in a large hydraulic press. The panels needed for the Truss Kids chair and Occasional Table are one 36mm x 5 x 5 panel with laminate on both sides, and one 18mm x 5 x 5 panel with laminate on one side and paper backer on the other side. These two panels are then sent on to the CNC router.
The router operator needs to pre program the digital files from CAD software into CAM software. The panels are placed upon a large vacuum hold down bed, and the router cuts the interior shapes, the exterior shapes and drills any surface holes that are necessary. The size of the bit determines the size tolerence the cut path needs, so parts must be nested a certain distance away from each other. Profile furniture parts are cut from the 36mm panel, and surfaces such as tabletops and seats are cut from the 18mm panel.
When the parts are removed from the CNC router bed, the surface edges have been cut smooth, which eliminates the need for sanding. The sharp edges do need to be softened, so the parts are run along a table router to chamfer the edges. Any secondary drilling or boring also takes place. Connection hardware is inserted and the parts move to finishing.
A large conveyor, spray booth and oven accomplish the finishing. Each part is sealed, sanded, coated, sanded and then top coated. The entire process takes several days. After finishing the parts are ready for quality control inspection, removing of the masking paper protecting the laminate, cleaning and test fitting. If everything passes inspection the parts are packed with instructions and hardware, either in a box for shipping or blanket wrapped for an installation. The packing of parts is as critical a step as any other; since damage due to transportation is the part of the process that is most out of the company’s control. The finished product arrives on the client’s doorstep ready to assemble.
The advancement of computer numerical controlled, or CNC, cutting machines has helped make mass customization a reality. There are a few common types of CNC cutting tools: Routers, Laser and WaterJet machines. A commonality in these machines is material lays on a flat bed with a hold down system that keeps the material in place while cutting. This can be as advanced as a vacuum hold down system or as simples as clamps. The cutter head is attached to a mechanical arm, or gantry, that travels along the x and y axes in relation to the material it’s cutting. In some instances the machine can also engrave along the z-axis.
Router machines use bits that rotate at high speeds to abrade and cut the material away. These router bits can have a variety of shapes and sizes for not only cutting through material, but also for cutting relief patterns and shapes into the material. Advanced versions of these machines can cut on 5-axis and may have specialty fixtures or jigs system to hold complicated or curved parts. Routers are best for cutting wood and non-ferrous metals, plastics and composites. An advantage of the router is the ability to cut thicker materials by making several passes. Disadvantages are the equipment is limited by tool size and the number of tool changes and cutting paths increase cost.
A Water Jet uses a pump to force water through the cutting head that generate high pressure so the resulting water stream can cut surfaces like plastics, foam, wood, rubber and vinyl. The jet stream is pinpoint small, allowing extremely intricate cutting. An aggregate can be added to the water jet stream to create a more abrasive cutting action. This allows metals, stone, ceramic and glass to be cut as well. The ability of this machine to cut through very hard and thick material sometimes makes it the only option. The process does not generate heat, so it won’t distort metals. However, it is a wet environment so materials like wood, fiber and fabrics may not be best suited for water jet cutting.
Laser cutting uses a high power laser that melts, burns or vaporizes material away. Thin gauge metals, fabrics and paper are well suited to laser cutting. Plastics, wood and thicker gauge metals can also be cut. The laser leaves a high quality edge surface (aluminum and steel) but also a visible burned edge on some materials (like wood). The intricacy and finite precision of the laser make it a good fit for small detailed jobs.
When CNC cutting technology was introduced the cost of the equipment was high and the scale was large. As advances in technology have been made, access to the equipment has increased, making tools more available and not as cost prohibitive as they once were. A good example of this is a do-it-yourself Carvewright machine, which sells at Sears for less than $1800.
Advances in hardware and industrial technology work hand-in-hand with the advances of CAD (Computer Aided Design) and CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) design and operation software programs. There are hundreds of developers for both CAD and CAM software programs. All CAD files eventually need to be translated into CAM files before they can run on any CNC machine. Combination CAD and CAM programs are also available.
Popular CAD programs are AutoDesk, Sketchup and Rhino, but there are a plethora of others. CAD programs are capable of expressing 2D or 3D objects as parts or lines that can be scaled, edited and manipulated. These programs are capable of exporting into a variety of formats, however not all CAM software can translate the exported CAD files properly. This allows certain software developers to maintain a monopoly on process and prevent everyone from accessing the low coast ability to work CAM operated industrial equipment.
Many machine operators are hesitant to run unfamiliar files for fear of ruining a machine or potential risk to operators if the machine mistranslates and malfunctions. Therefore, operators usually import and re-draw or modify CAD files to work with their particular CAM software at a considerable time and expense.
Currently, the intellectual property protection of the codes traps people into certain software packages and limits the ability to transfer information freely. One way to avoid this complication is by encouraging software developers to use “open source” code to allow greater access. This in turn will allow designers and operators more freedom to have their products made and realized.
Dictionary.com defines open source as:
A method and philosophy for software licensing and distribution in which the code used to write a software program is available to the greater public. The goal of open source code is to encourage use and improvement of software by ensuring that anyone can copy the source code and modify it, writing their own versions of the software that is better or more advanced. People commonly use the term "open source" to refer to software that is free of distribution restrictions (not necessary free of charge). Note, there are different kinds of open source licenses that programmers can choose from when distributing their programs.Dictionary.com
A great advantage to using CAD/CAM design software for CNC machines is the ability to true nest shapes. True nesting allows for each design object to be defined and analyzed. Objects have several input parameters. Some of these include rotation, grain direction where applicable and cutter head tolerance. Then, the user can specify the number of parts and stock size and true nesting software will lay out the parts to the highest machine performance and maximum material yield. True nesting is used for a variety of different applications and parts form kitchen cabinets and air duct manufacturing to automotive components.
Mass customization is an empowering proposition for consumers and designers. Once the processes are understood, the possibilities are only limited by one’s own imagination. There are several factors that will make a design more mass customization friendly. A good designer will consider many of these factors when making choices and refining their own designs.
A single object may be made from a variety of materials. Often time’s more than one material can create a similar object; a table can have a wood top or glass top. Each material has a standard of measurement in which it is gauged. Sheet goods, for example, usually come in standard sizes of 4’x4’ or 5’x5’ available in thickness ranging from 1/8” to 2”. This is a common sizing for anything flat, from glass or sheet metal to plywood, sheet veneers, plastic and solid surfaces. Block measurements, such as wood, plastic or glass use the processing method to define size. Each material with have it’s own grade and thickness associated with it. These block sizes tend to be smaller in width and length, but generally thicker. Hardwood is measured using the quarter system, and comes in rough dimensions from a wood mill in 1” to 1 1/5” thick, with a length up to 18’ long depending on the species of wood.
Making parts thicker than the standard size offerings can be done by glue up or fastening process. RTA furniture is cost effective because it doesn’t need a secondary process that requires labor to make materials thicker. However, solid furniture may have a higher value and be more durable, making it more desirable. Most materials like wood, glass, plastic and solid surface can be fused together.
The more an object can stay true to its material, the simpler the finishing process. The use of sheet goods, like laminates and veneers, which come in a multitude of options and colors, is one way to enhance an object's customability. Paint is also very versatile finish solution; you can use low cost materials and enhance it with paint.
The number of parts you can yield from your material depends upon how many parts you can nest. This can be a sophisticated formula; however sticking to simple sizing principles will make a significant impact. Once you determine the material choice, designing to maximize yield is critical. Using a 4’x8’ sheet for example, divisions of 24” minus a cutting head kerf will work well. Sizes of 36” would create excess waste. In a 5’x5’ sheet, sizes of 30” minus a cutting kerf work well. Keep these size and material factors in consideration when you’re designing. Also consider using “wasted” space by developing complimentary products that can be processed simultaneously or batch them together as inventory for later processing.
Cellular vs. Batch
Nesting products can be done with a couple of different approaches. A cellular nest has everything the designed object needs on a single run, while a batch nest uses several separate production runs with repeating parts for multiple objects. Time and labor factors need to be taken into consideration for a design’s cost effectiveness.
Ease of Modification
The design should lend itself to variations, multiple sizes or parametric modification. A parametric design is a way of linking dimensions and variables to a created geometry in a way that can be scaled. The values might change and in turn this will change and affect the entire design. The parametric itself is the variable that all other variables are related too. This allows for extremely quick modification to a single part and thus affecting and entire object. An end consumers requests and specifications can then be easily made. Tasks like changing chair heights, table widths, etc., should be a relatively simple procedure.
Lead-time is the number of days or weeks it takes from the point of purchase to when the product is ready to ship or deliver. The choices you make as a designer can effect the lead-time. Availability of materials and processes is the first step in understanding lead times for a given design. Regionally some materials and or processes might be more readily available than others. If you need to special order from a specific distributor you need to know the order timelines and minimum quantities. If you are specifying something exotic and only need a small quantity, the pricing can be high and the timing long. Also the number of processes your object will need and the complexity of the processes will affect the lead-time.
Before a design arrives at the customer’s door, it will need to travel and there are restrictions to consider. Problems arise if objects are too large to fit through doorways or unable to move up a flight of stairs. Also, certain express carrier trucks have size and weight restrictions. The factors can be overcome by good design solutions.
Finally, shipping or the method in which the item travels to the consumer is part of the design experience. Designing an object that needs to travel assembles versus non-assembled is a critical decisions. A RTA product ships easier and is less expensive than an assemble one, but it must be easy to put the parts together and require a minimum number of tools. If the product exceeds certain dimensions the shipping can be more expensive than the item itself. Oversize items also have a propensity to be expensive to ship and damage easily. Though last in the process, shipping considerations should be part of the overall design process.
Advantages of mass customization are immediate. If the manufacturing model were the change on a large scale, the positive effects would literally change the world. Shifting a product’s advantage from a low cost/cheap labor item to an individual personalized process will change the way consumers interact with the goods they use. Consumers who engage in design-driven custom products will have a personal investment in their purchase, creating value beyond low cost.
Because a product has a specific end user and purpose, the production of excess items would become obsolete. Transportation of these excess items would cease to be necessary. In addition, only the resources that are needed for a specific product would be consumed, reducing the consumption of raw materials for the creation of goods that have no specific future. A localized proximity of manufacturing near consumers will lower production lead-times, reduce transportation costs and related harmful emissions. Mass Customization manufacturing can be adaptive to market fluctuations, by reducing risk and equity investments in excess inventory and labor processes. The need to constantly grow a manufacturing base and produce more products in order to be profitable is as antiquated a business model, as mass manufacturing is a production model.
How mass customization will change the retail model?
Mass customization empowers single individuals to interact with, and create objects for their own local community. As the need for a product arises, more options are available. A single individual can create their own design, they may partner with a designer, or they can browse a library of other available products. And lastly, a consumer can still shop for pre-made objects and attempt to find something to suit their needs.
Design Democracy ‘08
Context Furniture hopes the DD08 website will facilitate a direct relationship between consumers, designers and fabricators; a network community where designs can be quoted and engineered, assistance offered when needed and where individuals can find local manufacturers and fabricators through vendor listings. Enterprising the individual grants access to create low cost one-off items, designers are in an advantageous position to take ownership of their designs. In this model, the designer can buy and sell their products directly to client if they so choose. If others like the design, they may whish to customize it or purchase it, and the designer will receive a design royalty fee based on the cost of the object.