MIT's been doing some deep thinking about Mass Customization recently. For those of you who are not aware of mass customization, it's the concept where customers are able to a very great degree determine the form of the product they receive. In other words, the customer knows more about what they want than a central mass-production factory, which by definition can provide only a limited set of product choices.
Mass customization has a relationship with 3D printing because we believe in a future world where 3D printers are often found within homes and businesses. A world like that would be the ultimate landing point for many mass customization concepts.
The MIT study explores the idea of a business using mass customization techniques (which could include the 3D printer scenario above) and smashes the notion that manufacturers with central mass-production plants have no interest in mass customization. The study says that by considering certain steps a business could indeed leverage mass customization techniques successfully. The steps include:
- The company must decide where where the line of customization and standardization lies. Certainly there must be a basic form to the solution from which the customizations can be applied. Without this definition, you're going to have a mess on your hands.
- The company's manufacturing, supply chains and operations must be capable of adapting to a new mass customization approach. In the distributed 3D printing scenario, this could be a lot simpler than adapting central manufacturing plants.
- The company must be able to adequately support the resulting diversity of goods without being overly expensive. This would require very careful design of the product and its customizations.
For a future company hoping to deliver customized designs to home/business 3D printers, these would definitely be considerations.