Emilia Dunaj
Emilia Dunaj
Head of Technology Insights
April 2024, 12 min. read

Manufacturing products exactly how each customer wants them in a traditional way is expensive and slow. It becomes impractical when dealing with thousands of orders. Mass customization changes this. It combines the personal touch of customization with the efficiency of mass production. This strategy adapts to evolving customer needs without the hefty price tag or lengthy timelines of bespoke manufacturing.

Various types of software dedicated for tailored production are key to this approach. The right systems support businesses in offering personalized products or services on a large scale, transforming how they respond to diverse customer preferences. 

This means companies can provide what feels like a tailor-made experience to each customer without the high costs and delays of traditional custom manufacturing.

In this read, we’ll look at mass customization challenges and solutions and how the right software is changing the way businesses work. We’ll also explain how manufacturing companies use new tech to keep up with what their customers want.

What is mass customization?

In simple words, mass customization meaning can be described as a strategy that combines the best of two worlds: personalized, tailor-made products and the efficiency of mass production. Manufacturers offer products that can be adjusted to meet unique customer preferences while still being produced on a large scale. 

This approach is increasingly being adopted in various industries, from vehicle manufacturing to retail, to meet the growing demand for personalized products. Customers get to influence various aspects of the product, from design to features, making it more aligned with their needs. 

But despite the customization, products are designed to be scalable, ensuring that they can be efficiently produced and delivered to a large number of customers. 

Mass production vs mass customization

In the period called the Industrial Age, the focus was on manufacturing large quantities of the same product, focusing on efficiency and cost-effectiveness. This model worked well for standard items, but didn’t address individual customer preferences.

Mass customization introduced a new way of thinking. It recognizes the needs of today’s consumers, offering products that can be individually tailored yet still produced efficiently on a large scale. This Digital Age approach combines the personal touch of custom-made items with the cost and efficiency benefits of mass production.

In practice, this means a manufacturing system flexible enough to adapt to different customer orders without significant slowdowns or increased costs. 

For example, a car manufacturer might use mass customization to offer buyers a choice of features like color, interior materials, or additional technology packages. While the basic car model remains the same, each customer gets a personalized version.

The characteristics of mass customization include:

  • Modular design – allows for parts to be easily interchangeable 
  • Flexible manufacturing processes – mean production lines can quickly switch between different product variations
  • Responsive supply chain management – ensures that the right parts are available when needed

Customization helps manufacturers cater to what customers want these days–unique options. By offering customization of products without losing efficiency, they gain an edge over competitors who are still stuck with the “one-size-fits-all” approach.

4 Types of mass customization

In mass customization production, various strategies dictate how manufacturers offer their products. These include Select-to-Order, allowing customers to choose specific features from a predefined set, or Make-to-Order, where products are created post-order. 

→ Learn more from Explaining Product Configuration Types for Different Market Approaches

There are different types of mass customization that companies can choose to enhance their business model:

types of mass customization

1. Transparent customization

This type is subtle and often goes unnoticed by the customer. The product is customized based on the manufacturer’s predictions of customer preferences, using data and past purchase history. For instance, a manufacturer might produce goods in specific colors or styles that are trending in a particular region. 

2. Collaborative customization

Here, the manufacturer works directly with the customer to identify their needs and preferences. This collaborative approach is common in industries like bespoke furniture or tailored clothing, where customer input directly influences the final product.

3. Adaptive customization

In this approach, the product is designed to be easily modified by the customer. Products are created with the ability to be adjusted or reconfigured to suit changing needs or preferences. One mass customization product example is modular home furniture that customers can rearrange or adapt to different spaces.

4. Cosmetic customization

This involves changing the appearance of a product to meet customer preferences, without altering its fundamental properties. An example is a car manufacturer offering the same model in various colors and finishes.

The benefits and challenges of mass customization

Mass customization is changing how people buy things. Now, customers often want products made just for them and are even ready to pay more for these special items. In fact, research shows that one in five consumers interested in personalized products are willing to pay a 20% premium for them.

This trend has made more people want customizable products, giving companies a chance to stand out and grab more of the market. Plus, mass customization lets customers be part of making their products, leading to unique items that really show off their personal style.

Let’s take a look at what manufacturers gain and what challenges they face with mass customization:

Mass customization benefits

  • Happier customers – products made to customer preferences increase satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Stand out in the market – offering unique customization options helps companies attract more customers.
  • Quick to respond – this approach makes it easier to adapt to what customers want and market changes.
  • Use resources wisely – making products based on orders can lead to less waste and smarter use of materials.

Mass customization challenges

  • More complex processes – adding customization often makes production processes more complicated.
  • Finding the right balance – it’s important to offer the right amount of customization without making things too complex for customers.
  • Keeping quality consistent – ensuring all customized products meet high-quality standards can be challenging.
  • Complex supply networkmanaging a supply chain for a wide range of customized products can be difficult, especially on a large scale.

While these mass customization disadvantages may seem daunting, the right software, tailor-made for your business, can provide effective solutions. Modern digital tools can simplify complex processes and customization options, ensure consistent quality, and streamline the supply chain. 

Technologies enabling mass customization

Mass customization merges personalized product design with large-scale production efficiency, largely thanks to cutting-edge technologies. These advancements help in every step, from design to making and delivering products. 

Let’s look closer at some of the most impactful technologies:

Robotics and Automation

Robotics and automation streamline the making of customized products. These technologies can swiftly adapt to create different versions of a product, like various models of cars on the same assembly line, without losing speed or quality. Automated processes ensure that each custom feature is added correctly, maintaining a high standard for every unique product.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

AI and ML help understand what customers want. By analyzing data, these technologies can predict trends and customer preferences. For example, in the furniture industry, AI might analyze customer data to understand which features are most popular, guiding the design of future models.

Internet of Things

IoT technology enables gathering useful information during the manufacturing process. In car manufacturing, IoT sensors can monitor how each vehicle is built, making sure all custom features are included correctly. These devices also help maintain equipment, reduce breakdowns, and keep production smooth.

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is essential for managing the vast amounts of data involved in mass customization. It offers a scalable, flexible platform for storing and processing information, crucial for coordinating different stages of production. Cloud technology ensures that teams in design, manufacturing, and delivery all have the latest information, helping to deliver customized products efficiently.

CAD Design

Computer-aided design (CAD) is key to detailed and accurate product customization. It’s used in fields like architecture and engineering, where designs must be tailored to specific client requirements. CAD allows for careful planning and visualization before production, reducing errors and ensuring the final product meets the exact specifications.

3D Printing

3D printing enables quick production of unique parts. A 3D printer creates three-dimensional objects from digital designs. It works by adding material layer by layer, following the design from a CAD model, until the final physical object is formed. It’s popular in industries like healthcare, where it’s used for custom-fit prosthetics. 

3D Scanning

3D scanning captures precise dimensions and shapes of objects or environments. It’s especially valuable in industries where exact fit and customization are critical, such as in creating custom-fit medical devices or consumer products.

Key software driving mass customization

Without the right software, mass customization in manufacturing would be difficult. Here are some key software tool examples that use advanced tech to help with customizing products:

Product Configurators

Product configurators empower customers to design products that suit their exact needs. A classic example is customizing a car on a manufacturer’s website, selecting the engine, color, and interior. This tool makes the customization process user-friendly and efficient, guiding customers through their choices and using data to suggest optimal configurations.

Integrated ERP systems

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems have evolved to support customization efforts. These comprehensive tools can manage complex data, coordinate between different departments (like design, production, and supply network), and track customer orders through the entire production process. ERP systems ensure that custom components are accurately reflected in the final product.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software

CRM systems now play a crucial role in customization. They help businesses understand individual customer needs and preferences, enabling more targeted and personalized product offerings. CRM software helps sales and marketing teams maintain detailed client profiles, guiding the customization process based on specific client needs.

Supply chain optimization tools

Distribution channel optimization tools, like inventory management systems and order tracking software, are crucial in maintaining the delicate balance of supply and demand in mass customization. These tools often employ AI to predict inventory needs and optimize stock levels, ensuring that materials for custom orders are readily available. Order tracking software keeps a close eye on the production and delivery stages, providing real-time updates. This is essential in industries where components for custom orders might have varying lead times and availability.

Smart production scheduling software

A scheduling system helps to plan and adapt production schedules to accommodate custom orders. It assesses resource availability, deadline constraints, and existing production commitments, seamlessly integrating custom orders into the workflow. This back-office software solution, often powered by AI/ML, is invaluable in complex manufacturing environments where scheduling precision is crucial.

Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES)

These systems blend IoT with smart manufacturing to optimize production. They gather real-time data from the production floor using IoT sensors, monitoring machine performance and product quality. MES ensures each product meets specific standards and helps predict maintenance needs and optimize machinery use. By providing detailed insights into the manufacturing process, MES enhances efficiency and precision in customized production.

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software

PLM software is integral to managing the entire lifecycle of a product, from inception to retirement. It enables smooth collaboration across different departments, ensuring that all aspects of a product’s design, manufacturing, and maintenance consider customer-specific customization. PLM software proves indispensable in complex manufacturing scenarios where products have long lifespans and require ongoing customization and updates. 

Real-world examples of mass customization

Numerous companies have successfully implemented the mass customization strategy. Here are mass customization examples showcasing how some industry leaders have benefited from embracing this approach:

Electronics Customization

🖥️ Dell revolutionized the PC market with its build-to-order model. Customers can customize their computers online, choosing components like processors, memory, and storage. This business strategy increased customer satisfaction by delivering personalized solutions and allowed Dell to manage inventory efficiently and reduce costs.

Dell Customization
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Automotive Customization

🚗 Suzuki is a great example of mass customization in the automotive industry. They offer an online configurator tool where customers can tailor their vehicles, choosing options like color, engine, interior features, and more. This makes buying a car more fun as customers can create a car that suits their preferences and see the results on screen. With this tool, the brand can meet diverse consumer needs effectively within its offered range.

Car Customization
Image source

Furniture Customization

🗄️ IKEA offers a range of products with customizable options, such as the modular PAX wardrobe system. Customers can tailor these products to their space and style preferences, enhancing their shopping experience. IKEA benefits from increased customer engagement and a broader appeal across different market segments.

Furniture customization
Image source

Apparel Customization

👟 Nike‘s ‘Nike By You’ service allows customers to design their own footwear, selecting colors and materials, and even adding personal identifiers. This customization has helped Nike stand out in a competitive market, offering unique products that resonate with individual customer styles and preferences.

Nike customization
Image source

Medical Devices Customization

🦵 Ottobock uses cutting-edge technology like 3D scanning and printing to create prosthetics that are precisely tailored to the individual needs and anatomies of patients. This approach improves the comfort and functionality of the prosthetics for users but also represents a significant advancement in patient care. 

Conclusion

Successful companies recognize that customer happiness and investing in digital tools are central to their success. By being flexible and innovative, you can integrate mass customization into your strategy to join the ranks of industry leaders. 

Mass customization is changing how products are designed and delivered, effectively combining personalization with efficiency. The advantages are clear: better customer satisfaction and a stronger position in the market. Investing in software that’s developed for your exact needs will support your strategy and help set industry standards.

Looking ahead, technology will continue to advance, and thus, the possibilities for mass customization production will grow as well. Right Information is here to guide you through finding the right tools to implement mass customization and shape the future. Contact Us today to schedule an appointment with one of our digital experts.

→ Recommended reading: What is Product Configurator? Definitive Guide 2024