Eight strategies for Mass Customization

by Michel Baudin

"Mass customization" aims to let customers specify requirements precisely without increasing costs, regardless of how unique these requirements may be. It brings the benefits of customization to everyday items like mugs with company logos, or makeup foundation that exactly matches a woman’s skin color. But how can we satisfy every customer whim at prices that are no higher than those of competitors who offer only a few products? The following strategies have worked in many circumstances:

  1. Analyze the structure of the demand. We need to be able to make what customers do order, not everything they might. Most of the actual demand tends to cluster around a few configurations, and production must be organized to take advantage of this structure.

  2. Standardize components. Custom products do not always have to be made from scratch. Instead, they can be made from a small number of standard components.

  3. Make a catalog with a discrete set of sizes. All shoes used to be custom-made, but today, shoes made in size increments meet the needs of almost all consumers. Many industries that still customize like village cobblers could lower theirs costs without hurting customers by making the same transition.

  4. Postpone customization to the end of the process. Customization happens best at or near the end of the manufacturing process. Postponing customization, however, may require substantial process engineering efforts.

  5. Identify a common process. Then we can treat custom products like options on standard products.

  6. Maintain a database of past designs. It can be an enormous time saver in meeting requirements that appear to be new. The challenge is finding ways to organize this data for easy retrieval of similar designs rather than exact matches.

  7. Design your custom manufacturing process. While still a job-shop, the custom workshop must be organized for effectiveness and efficiency.

  8. Set up a simple production control system. Cap the number of jobs in process, sequence WIP FIFO, do all priority shuffling prior to job release, and track progress with Ybry charts.

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