Earlier this week, I received an email from a graduate student with the University of Hanover in Germany who is just getting started understanding mass customization. I’ve provided some responses below.

What mass customized products do already exist? What percent of the particular product category is mass customized rather than mass produced?

When you ask about “mass customized products,” one assumes you mean products that aren’t merely “customized” or “personalized” but actually produced using mass customization as the foundational business paradigm.

It would be extremely difficult to estimate the percentage of products that are currently produced under the mass customization business paradigm. Why? Manufacturers can produce customized products without implementing mass customization though I would argue it is not possible to attain the efficiencies that mass customization can bring.

Mass customization, properly implemented, allows a manufacturer to produce unique customer configurations from a pre-determined set of choices with the same efficiency that it would take to produce a similar, mass produced product. The underlying assumption in this prior statement is that mass customization has been implemented holistically, as an enterprise-wide business strategy and has not been approached as a departmental initiative.

Mass customization is an approach to organizing a manufacturing business so the customer can be seamlessly connected to the enterprise. This means that there is some tool for a customer to configure a product based on pre-determined choices. There must also be a means for a customer or customer’s representative, e.g., a dealer, to request that new features and options be made available within the set of pre-determined choices.

What other products will be mass customized in 5-10 years time? What percent of the particular product category will mass customized rather than mass produced?

Over the next 5-10 years, more and more companies that offer configurable products will move to the mass customization business paradigm. Again, one cannot equate the implementation of mass customization with merely offering configured products to the marketplace.

Build to order, configure to order, assemble to order, make to order and engineer to order do not require that the manufacturer be organized as a mass customizer. However, without implementing mass customization, a manufacturer cannot realize the efficiencies that the meet both the needs of the marketplace and the needs of the manufacturer’s investors.

Some mass producers may also embrace mass customization in the next decade; automobile manufacturers would be excellent candidates. Let’s be clear that mass production will continue to play a strong role in the global economy–it’s not going away.

What characterizes products that may be offered under a mass customization business paradigm?

The business drivers will be reducing the cost for producing configured customer orders by driving down the cost of variety, creating greater efficiencies across the enterprise by eliminating rework loops, and addressing customers’ bias for being able to get exactly what they want at an appropriate price and in a reasonable time frame.

Is mass customization customer-driven or company-driven? What are the main reasons for companies to produce mass customized products? What are the main reasons, customers prefer mass customized products?

Mass customization is about being customer-driven, not “company” or “market” driven.

Manufacturers must adopt mass customization as an enterprise-wide business strategy to:

Link customers and configuration capability directly to the enterprise via the Internet.
Set expectations about what configurations can be produced.
Increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Reduce time-to-market.
Reduce internal costs to support evolving product offerings.
Decrease order cycle time.
Reduce the cost of documenting products.
Eliminate artificial product constraints due to effort/complexity to modify or enhance a product line.
Eliminate cost of configuration errors.
Increase flexibility and responsiveness to “give customers what they want”.
Reduce overhead.
Eliminate the costs associated with “specials”.
What are the most critical barriers that could undermine a mass customization initiative?

Not approaching mass customization as an enterprise-wide business strategy.
Selecting inappropriate product configurator technology?
Failure to establish a product management function.
Not allocating sufficient resources to support the transition to mass customization.
Not seeking outside guidance and assistance in executing a transition from someone who has “been there, done that.”
I hope this gives you a good start in understanding mass customization. Please add any comments or additional questions you may have to this post.

David J. Gardner Mass Customization Expert


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