Two opposing forces exert a strong influence on a company`s activities: Cost reduction and customer satisfaction (studies say, that 3D configurators have an significant positive effect on customer satisfaction). In the future, theses forces may be less likely to resist.

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Mass Customization has been on everyone`s lips since Stan Davis coined the term in his book “Future Perfect” in 1987. So far, however, the industry has not kept its promise to design products that are truly individual. But digital technologies and the spread of manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing make more products adaptable without incurring enormous costs.

“Everything digital is ultimately very easy to customize,” says Frank Piller, professor of management at RWTH Aachen University and co-director of the Smart Customization Group at the Massachusetts institute of Technology. Digital printing, for example, enables individual adaptation that is too complicated or too expensive for offset printing.

The technology has improved steadily in recent years and the costs for the next generation of digital printing are failing. It can be used for a wider range of materials. “What you can do with 3D printing is extraordinary,” says Dr. Piller. Many companies are justifiably faced with the question of what else can be done with this technology.

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In the B2B area, adjustments have always been necessary in the past. Machine tool manufacturers traditionally had a large collection of catalogue items and a high-quality engineer-to-order business. In between were custom-made solutions that had a predefined basis of solutions whose options could be refined.

Only a few industrial companies equip an entire factory with new machines. They have old equipment and therefore need to be adapted to connect it to new equipment and to add capabilities that their competitors do not have.

To simplify the process, the equipment is usually modular, which is a common feature of mass customization. The customer has the choice between different modules so that he gets exactly what he needs without the cost of a customized solution.

Modular designs can allow easy upgrades and extensions, but they also carry the risk of opening a door for competitors to sneak through. “With an integrated product, you have to buy everything from me,” says B. Joseph Pine, co-founder of Strategic Horizons LLP in Dellwood, Minnesota and co-author of Mass Customization. The new Frontier in business competition. But forcing loyalty through integrated design is short-sighted. “the more modular the design, the more you can deliver the best for the customer.”

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However, 3D printing and digitization could range the need for modularity and enable truly unique solutions in the future. From machine tools to consumer products, anything is possible.

Instead of limiting customer choice to the model, size and color of their shoes, a 3D print shoe can also be customized to fit. “This could result in a one-time cost for a foot scan, but such a scan could then be used for a collection of shoes.” adds Dr. Piller.

Mass customization is not spreading as rapidly as expected in many industries. “It`s obvious that every body is unique, so you can`t buy anything off the rack and get nothing that suits everyone. That`s impossible,” says Mr. Pine.

There`s waste in the system,” he adds. “Retailers discount, dispose of or recycle tons of unsold clothing. They produced waht people didn`t want. Mass Customization allows them to produce as needed, so there`s less waste. It`s more environmentally sustainable. It eliminates the shipping of items that aren`t really sold.

Instead of creating a product in the hope that will appeal to all consumers, mass customizations can create products that the customer wants.

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Instead of pushing what you have, the consumer pulls what he wants,” says Mr. Pine. “Mass Customization turns a good into a service. Goods are standardized, but services are delivered customized, when, where and how the customer wants them,” he adds.

Companies have to please a generation of individuals who are used to individualizing everything they don`t buy a whole CD of music, they just buy the songs they like and play in the order they like them. They don`t watch television, they stream the shows they want to see when they want to. Facebook is a mass-matched platform – everyone has the same tools available, but each person makes their wall unique. Similarly, smartphones are a platform for mass customization because every person downloads the apps they want.

The technology allows the customization to continue even after the purchase of a thing. Sensors are being developed for all kinds of products, from thermostats that adapt to the way you use your home to reduce your heating costs, to lighting controls that allow you to create exactly the ambience you want, to razors that adapt to the contours of your face.

This type of fitting is first and foremost anything that can be digitized,” says Mr. Pine. “The sensors go into everything.