Direct to consumer – customized automated manufacturing

The future of manufacturing is here and it is (drumroll please) – Direct to consumer (DTC) customized automated manufacturing (CAM – has different meanings so we will hold off on giving this one an acronym).

We are living in an age of new possibilities. We have gone from one off manufacturing -> to mass standardization -> to mass customization. We are entering a time when customized components can be manufactured at the same speed as standardized components for individual consumers. Consumers want customized, individualized products, that they can order on-demand from their smartphones. And they want them yesterday.

There are ample examples of mass customization with both startups and large brands trying to get into the game. There are many examples of failed attempts at mass customization but they are paving the way for new opportunities.

Examples of individualized mass customization

  • Levi’s F.L.X. Finishing – “Consumers will be able to start with seven of Levi’s most popular fits, including the 501. From those seven fits, using a variety of design combinations, they’ll be able to design over a thousand combinations of their own personalized jeans”
  • Function of Beauty – Custom made hair products – Custom made for your type of hair. They use the term hyper-personalization.
  • Nike – NikeID brand https://www.nike.com/us/en_us/c/nikeid#iUSIGNGldC
  • Formaspace – https://formaspace.com/ – mass customized furniture to fit a certain area.
  • True Gault — the latest brand to crack the code on mass-producing personalized items. Use a phone to scan your foot. Then the heels are produced in Spain and shipped to your home

Pick any consumer industry and you will find manufacturers creating setups to mass customize products for individual consumers. Customized apparel, customized printed medical components that go in our bodies, customized automated food creation, custom furniture fit to your home, custom education, custom books.

The world of standardization will become more strained in markets which have mass customization options. The reason that mass customization will win is that there is pricing power for individualized products and data advantages to understanding customer wants.

Configured customization vs. individualized customization

Types of products which create personalization value tend to fall into two main categories, configured and individualized customization. Configured refers to your typical type of configurator or customizer type of application. The customer uses an application and they are able to choose their preferences based on configurable options. Nike shoes is an example of this. Pick the colors you like and the size and the materials. Individualized customization, on the other hand, is right-sized to the customer. In this case, the product is customized to the consumer based on unique characteristics of the consumer. Examples of this are 3-D body scanners that create clothes to custom size.

Individualized product creation is definitely within reach but building a unique product for each and every customer is not without its challenges.

Challenges to mass customization

  1. Creating enough value through customization to make the costs of implementation worth it
  2. Materials/inputs planning
  3. Materials and inputs movement
  4. Communicating customization options to customers
  5. Production location. Proponents of mass customization talk about mini-factories that operate within other businesses. For instance, an apparel mini-factory combined with a retail storefront.
  6. Maintaining manufacturing flexibility as complexity increases
  7. Configurator software

The streets are littered with failed attempts to create companies based on mass customization too. One recent example is shoes of prey. One of their findings was that while the model worked for fringe shoe designers, most people aren’t used to designing their own shoes. They had a good business at a small scale but weren’t able to scale up to a mass market.

Opportunities to mass customization

  1. Lack of skilled labor or difficulty keeping positions filled
  2. Personalized products create customer loyalty
  3. Pricing power for personalized products
  4. Digital enhancements, modular manufacturing frameworks, and flexible process create more personalization options

If you are working on a custom automated DTC company, reach out today. Some manufacturers also call this bespoke mass customization. We are trying to solve these challenges everyday and we are looking to invest. I am very interested in investing in technologies which enable mass customization so don’t hesitate to reach out if you are working on a system to enable this. I especially like Direct to Consumer automated manufacturing set-ups. Even if they are small, we like to tinker with systems over here. For instance, we have built applications with Raspberry Pi as a microcontroller to build products for Etsy. No system is too big or small.

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