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At the beginning it was Mass Production. The Fordist revolution whose practical expression took the form of the assembly line, of extreme mass production. Concepts that succeeded in changing the face of society – as we know it today – forever and which in many ways still represent the benchmark production model. Technology has evolved enormously over the last century or so but the majority of businesses continue to manufacture their products in the same way, according to the concept of mass production.
The desire of the consumer to interact with the product and customise it gives rise to a fundamental new concept: Mass Customisation.
This concept, conventionally attributed to Stan Davis (Future Perfect, 1986), represents an inversion of the consolidated practice in the industrial sphere. In fact, compared with mass production, it involves an evolution towards personalisation. Companies found themselves having to cater for this type of demand while maintaining the production advantages connected with mass production. This is where the problems began. How is it possible to reconcile two contrasting concepts such as mass production and customisation? How can you cater for the on demand requirements of consumers on the production line?
Although conceptually quite simple, Mass Customisation is actually very complex to implement in practical terms in the world of manufacturing.
If a company is not structured in such a way as to be able to customise all of the product development phases, it cannot successfully implement a Mass Customisation strategy. It has trouble meeting the demands of its customers. A factor not to be underestimated in a market that has become increasingly selective and competitive thanks to the internet, a development which has given consumers enormous power. They can now view all of the products on the market just by looking at their smartphones. As a result, they will choose the products that best meet their needs.
The advantages of customisation are obvious in terms of strategy; it is technology that remains the great barrier. As long as the main competitive advantage of a company lies in its mass production of products to ensure lower production costs, it will be very difficult to emerge from this vicious circle.
In very simple terms, if a company does not have an integrated cycle that enables it to manufacture the product personalised by the customer within a reasonable timeframe and with sustainable costs, it becomes impossible to adopt a Mass Customisation strategy. Except in some very rare cases, you are therefore left in “stand-by”, in the “I wish I could but I can’t” situation that has characterised the last thirty years of industrial production.
Today 3D technologies have revolutionised the scenario. From a mere ideology Mass Customisation is beginning to take form, an extraordinary resource for the production industry.
The mass customisation cycle evolves into the 3D Mass Customisation Cycle.
How is it different to Mass Customisation in the classic sense? And, moreover, how does 3D Mass Customisation Cycle enable manufacturers to make their processes compatible with the demand for product personalisation and associated on demand production?
The integration of a 3D configuration platform and 3D printing services in company processes makes it possible to achieve a level of flexibility not permitted by traditional methods.
The 3D product configurator, in general terms, should not be confused – as is often the case – with the classic online configurator which consumers use to customise product features during the purchasing experience.
It is a genuine platform that can include the following tools, connected to each other according to Industry 4.0 logic:
Design Tools – smart and interactive 3D modelling software that can manage all designs and materials, integrating in real time with all of the product development phases.
Prototyping Tools – fast prototyping via 3D printing techniques that make it possible to avoid long and costly traditional prototyping processes.
Virtual Photo Studio – the 3D environment makes it possible to obtain instant photorealistic product renderings, useful both as feedback for the designer and in terms of digital marketing.
Design Automation & Production Tools – any variation results in the automatic updating of the design’s 3D model and all working designs. Without any room for errors.
CPQ Sales Tools – the ideal tools for meeting all of the needs of vendors, who can show the customer a photorealistic 3D image of the product, manage all commercial phases and automatically send purchase orders and production specs to the company.
E-Commerce Customiser Tools – enable consumers to customise the product online according to their needs, viewing the product that they will purchase in real time.
Customer Care Tools – integrated features for post-sales support and management, on both the company and consumer side.
Big Data & Analysis Tools – tools that can collect and analyse in real time all Digital Experience data, including consumer habits. Crucial to the success of the company’s marketing actions.
Through analysis and targeted consultancy actions, some or all of these tools can be integrated in existing company processes in order to improve their efficiency and enable the company to obtain the advantages synergic with 3D printing production techniques.
- The ability to conceive and design forms that are not possible with traditional tools;
- The possibility of using innovative materials, not compatible with traditional production processes;
- The possibility of being able to customise products (mass customisation);
- The reduction of time to market, thanks to the shortening of the timeframes connected with the product development cycle;
- A reduction in production costs as there are no constraints connected with minimum production numbers;
- A reduction in logistics costs due to on demand production which limits the warehouse requirements typical of mass production;
- The optimisation of the quantity of materials used in production processes for improved environmental sustainability.
The 3D Mass Customisation Cycle is now a realistic possibility, a forward-looking concept that represents the future of the manufacturing industry.
And, as Enzo Ferrari used to say, the future belongs to those who are able to foresee it.
This post is also available in: Italiano