Mass Customization Is Coming

By on July 15th, 2020 in Ideas

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A 3D printed, mass customized bike [Source: Superstrata]

With the arrival of the new Superstrata 3D printed bikes, I’m wondering whether we’re now at the moment when mass customization begins to grow in the minds of consumers.

Mass Customization

The concept of mass customization is straightforward: instead of providing everyone with an identical product, provide individually tailored products on a massive scale. The catch for decades has been, however, doing so at that massive scale.

That said, there has actually been some success in mass customization, specifically in the dental market. In that industry it’s mandatory to produce dental appliances that actually fit the patient. While traditional approaches used casting methods in a central lab to produce the appliances, today it’s largely done through mass customized 3D printing.

But there’s something not quite complete about that use case: the consumer did not decide themselves to purchase a custom 3D printed product. Instead the decision to go 3D printing was done by the dental office or perhaps even the dental lab involved. The consumer simply gets a product and they really don’t know the difference.

But the Superstrata bike is different. This is a bike that will be custom 3D printed to precisely fit the buyer, and in theory the buyer will receive a much better ride as a result. The bike buyer here must choose whether to spend a bit extra on the custom 3D printed bike or spend less on a bike with a standard size.

How much extra? In the case of the Superstrata bike, it is more, but not that much more. Of course, the world of high-end bikes is one where you can spend as much as you want, but typically pricing seems to lie in the US$2-10K range.

Superstrata’s pricing lands in the middle of that range, with their units priced around US$3-4K. But during their crowdfunding launch the pricing is about half that, which is definitely a great deal over typical carbon fiber bikes.

Consumers Choose Custom-Fit Products

Putting the pricing aside, there’s something else going on here.

This is one of the first consumer scenarios where the choice is to obtain a custom-fit product — at reasonable prices — that is comparable to conventional products. Given an insignificant difference in price, would a consumer naturally select the custom-fit product over the mass produced product? That would be the obvious conclusion, but it hasn’t been that way because up to now custom-fit products tend to be vastly more expensive than “regular” products.

What happens if this becomes a more frequent scenario? What if consumers become more frequently challenged to select custom-fit over standard products?

What if the custom-fit products win most of those battles?

The Transformation To Additive Manufacturing

Would it not become “expected” that products are custom-fit? If it’s seen over and over, then it should eventually become a normal thing.

How would product manufacturers react in such a situation? Would they switch their build process to a custom-fit approach? Would they have to do so in order to maintain sales, if consumers were constantly selecting custom-fit over standard products? Would they drop their prices to compete?

One possible outcome of this scenario is that there could be a significant shift towards custom-fit products by manufacturers, which would lead to a massive increase in the sales of 3D printing equipment.

I’m watching the Superstrata situation closely, as it may tell us whether the tide is beginning to turn towards 3D printing.

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!

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