Mass production implies uniformity. A mass-produced product gets made in enormous quantities based on common specifications; its entire production run may even happen in the same facility, on one set of machines. Product customization is the polar opposite of mass production, as it involves bespoke items created in smaller batches, sometimes by hand.
The happy medium: Mass customization
Between these two concepts is the notion of mass customization, which attempts to blend the relatively low costs of mass production with the personalization of product customization. Mass customization isn’t a new concept. Harvard Business Review examined it in-depth in 1997, focusing on different approaches such as collaborating with customers on an individual basis or creating a uniform product that was user-customizable.
But companies have intensified their focus on mass customization over time, in response to evolving customer demands. A 2020 survey from Dassault Systèmes and CITE Research found that younger consumers, in particular, expect personalization of the products they purchase:
- Over 80% of respondents wanted their products to be personalized.
- These consumers are also willing to spend 25% more on such customized items.
What are the rewards and risks of mass customization?
Companies can benefit from increased personalization, as custom products may increase sales, boost brand awareness, and engender customer loyalty. Personalized products – such as shoes tailored to 3-D scans of a person’s feet and vehicles with numerous possible configuration options for wheels, trim, and color – can become important competitive differentiators.
However, delivering these types of made-to-order items at scale is a growing challenge for manufacturers. They need the shortest path possible from the design and assembly of each bill of material (BOM) to releasing the configured product to market.
SolidWorks found that three-fourths of companies felt that customization had at least somewhat increased from 2014 to 2019, and even more expected it to do so from 2019 to 2024. With this rising demand, several hurdles emerge:
- Controlling costs and waste: Mass customization means more SKUs going out the door, which translates to more patterns, configurations, and colors, etc. that can be entered and produced incorrectly. This can lead to additional runs and the money and waste they entail. A unified source of truth for this custom product data may also be missing.
- Meeting customer expectations: The bar is high for customized products. Customers expect their apparel and shoes to fit perfectly, their car to look exactly as they imagined, and the customizations they made to actually be available. A manufacturer should be able to ensure a product is configurable and customer-aligned before producing samples.
- Ensuring system performance: Product lifecycle management (PLM) systems can struggle with the scope and complexity of mass customization. Building a data architecture for millions of configurations can exceed traditional PLM capabilities. Configurator tools can introduce additional issues like incorrect entities in the database.
How PLM solutions must evolve
All isn’t lost for PLM, though. The right modifications and changes in strategy – namely, integrating configuration lifecycle management (CLM) tools and migrating an on-prem PLM implementation to the cloud – can deliver the flexibility necessary to pursue mass customization.
CLM + PLM = CPQ
Integrating CLM with PLM delivers a single source of truth for all custom product data. This combination lets sales teams, for instance, see every functional option for a product (without having to consult an engineer first) and configure, price, and quote (CPQ) it directly for the customer. This setup is also fully scalable as custom product lines expand with new options. Everyone wins: data is easier to access internally within a company, plus more presentable to customers in the form of accurate and detailed customization options.
By shifting PLM activities into the cloud, manufacturers can access the latest features of a cloud-based PLM solution while scaling their overall operations. Cloud PLM can enable critical workflows like multi-site BOM management and simplified engineering change orders for made-to-order items. The cloud provider also takes on tasks like updates and patches, freeing the customer to focus more on its mass customization strategy.
Inspirage is an experienced, expert Oracle partner with a track record of success in PLM implementations. Connect with our team to learn more about how we guide your next project supporting mass customization.