The challenges of mass customization in manufacturing

Today, customers are not content with standard products, but are looking for differentiated and personalized goods or services. Thanks to the new information technologies and innovative manufacturing processes, mass customization has become available in a multitude of sectors. In this article, Claudia Jarrett, US country manager at automation parts supplier EU Automation, discusses the main challenges of mass customization in manufacturing.


Mass customization is the perfect combination of mass production and customization, which aims to provide unique products or services on a large scale and at a relatively low cost. Smart manufacturers have already been aware that mass customization can be the key to a profitable business, as it helps boost customer satisfaction and win brand loyalty.


Deloitte research shows that in some sectors, more than 50 per cent of consumers expressed interest in purchasing customized products or services. One in five consumers are willing to pay a 20 per cent premium for customization service. For instance, in the fashion industry, more and more consumers are now looking for personalized clothes, handbags and shoes. Even though mass customization brings considerable benefits for manufacturers, some major challenges still exist.  


An efficient supply chain

Although customers might be willing to pay more for a customized product, manufacturers still need to minimize production costs.  Consequently, manufacturers need to shorten lead times to keep the end price reasonable. One way to do that, is to work with reliable suppliers. As there might be neither time nor budget for full product inspection, manufacturers must work with suppliers who can deliver high quality materials on time.


Besides, the supply chain needs to be adaptable. Every node in the supply chain should be able to communicate effectively to each other so that they are all aware of any changes in customers’ demand or accidents that could affect lead time. Investing in a supply chain visibility software can help manufacturers be aware of what’s happening across an extended supply chain, so that they can react quickly when unexpected circumstances affect the delivery of goods.


Management system

Each customer may have extremely different demands for products, thus the order management system plays a crucial role in building relationship between the manufacturers and consumers. Companies need to develop a management system able to manage a huge amount of information, including a client database, customer orders and more.


In addition, companies should involve customers in product configuration, meaning that sales, marketing, distribution, and manufacturing all need to have great understandings of customer requirements. For example, customers who visit Dell’s website can directly talk to the staff about their personal requirements. After choosing suitable products, customers can order them with a simple click. From inventory and manufacturing to marketing and logistics, all the departments in the company can process the transaction at the same time, hence customers can know immediately all terms of the purchase.


A flexible production process

Since manufacturers need to produce goods based on customers’ different requirements, a highly flexible manufacturing process is very important. Companies which are able to organize their modular product design properly tend to have a more agile manufacturing system. In modular product design, products are designed under some modules or processes that enable any types of customization.


For instance, Boeing classified a huge number of parts and components for its airplanes into three types — standardized, configured to a fixed set of options, or customized. An effective modular product design can streamline the process of ordering, engineering, and manufacturing, leading to a more cost-effective and time-saving customization process.


Many cutting-edge manufacturing technologies, such as additive manufacturing and automation, are ideal for the production of mass customization as they are highly agile, adaptable and cost-effective. For instance, additive manufacturing considerably reduces inventory and distribution costs and lower the risk of obsolescence and supply chain disruptions.


Automation technologies, like robotics, can greatly increase the flexibility and efficiency on the factory floor. To take the lead in the trend of mass customization, manufacturers must harness the power of new technologies. To learn more about equipment for a flexible production process, visit

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