It’s been a long, long time in coming. But the dream of making millions of unique, individual products is getting closer to reality. And that’s a good thing as consumers continue to search for and demand products that meet their individual preferences.
At this year’s CES show, a survey by CITE Research and Dassault Systemes revealed that consumers want personalized products, but they won’t wait for them, and they expect a cost benefit for their payment of data. The survey revealed that for younger consumers, personalization is a feature that improves products and services, quality of life, and personal safety. While they are willing to give up data for these features, they have concerns about how their data are collected and managed. Consumers are willing to pay on average 25.3% for personalization. In return, they expect to be compensated with an average of 25.6% savings for giving out their data.
The survey also found that 83% of consumers expect products or services to adapt in a matter of moments or hours.
They are more willing to pay for personalized healthcare; less so for personalized retail.
A challenge for designers will be in how consumers define personalization. More than 50% define it as products/services they customize before purchasing, or as products/services selected from a list of options, or as products/services created based on personal data.
Meeting consumer criteria would not be possible without the development of several key technologies critical to the ability to deliver one-of-a-kind products affordably: the internet, digital manufacturing, the Internet of Things, and additive manufacturing.
The ability to send through the internet, it should go without saying, is critical to any and all digital technology.
The move to digital manufacturing, offered by companies such as Protolabs, promises to deliver solutions to shift from mass production to mass customization and make it affordable. Digital manufacturing is the application of digital technologies, such as computer technology, the IoT, data collection and transfer and so on, to manufacturing. The goal is to have the right information at the right place and time. Digital manufacturers like Protolabs link various systems across the value chain into a digital format, which reduces the cost and time of making unique products.
Through connectivity and data gathering and analysis, the Internet of Things (IoT) can help developers respond to the trend of adapting products and services in moments or hours, as well as increasingly shorter product life cycles.
Designers must deal with the customization trend of continuous product upgrades, which are usually software based and thus best managed digitally. For example, medical-device companies used to put out a product that would have an eight- or nine-year life span. Today, though, rapid new product development is shortening those life spans, encouraging designers to shift product enhancements to software, which makes it easier to keep products up to date. But the upgrades may often need to be custom.
As design engineers take advantage of digital technology to incorporate a range of features and functions, IoT enabled devices let customers control and customize them to suit their preferences, needs, and tastes.
Of the main manufacturing technologies—machining, injection molding, sheet metal fabrication and additive manufacturing—it was additive manufacturing that has made one-of-a-kind products possible. Additive is uniquely suited to building one product at a time because scale and complexity do not add to the cost of production. Thus, consumers can readily have their individualized, personalized products. The main drawback with additive is build speed, which is where injection molding and machining can add their benefits.
Digital manufacturing plays a pivotal role in helping companies cater to the specific demands of customers. Digital manufacturing technology, be it machining or injection molding or additive, gives the product finished, custom looks or functions. And digital technology can usually do so in the commercial-grade materials the customer wants. Plus, these custom parts can be delivered quickly.
As different industries move to address the technological challenges and shifting consumer expectations, digital manufacturing will assist companies to meet marketplace demands while satisfying the specific needs of their customers. Digital manufacturing is a key to handling the low-volume, high-mix production customization demands.