MCPC 2017: Key Insights from the Mass Customization Summit

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"There are no markets. Only customers. Stop marketing. Start customering."

Joseph Pine is no stranger to coining new terms. While he shies away from the ownership of "mass customization", it is through his seminal book that the term initially gained popularity. In the past twenty years, mass customization brought tremendous changes to the industry, but Joseph Pine is already looking further. The future will tell us if "customering" will make as big of a wave as its predecessor. But all in all, Pine is essentially describing the natural evolution of mass customization.

"Markets are a fiction created by big companies to mask the fact that they can't serve individual customers' needs", he continues.

Mass customization is the way to achieve a market-less approach, a world where products are effectively born out of customers' needs instead of being pushed through standardization. However, as Frank Piller remarks, commercial configurators are still way behind state-of-the-art research. They don't help customers formulate needs they can't alway express, and they don't realize that, more often than not, customers don't care about customization. One customer, one need, and the configuration process is but one more step between them and fulfillment.

Jan Hill, Senior Director of Technology Innovation at Adidas, describes a way to reduce this friction. During the Adidas "Knit for You" experiment in Berlin, custom pieces of clothes could be configured directly in the store by customers. They were able to personalize many aspects of the products, but at each step of the way, the customization process could be broken by choosing a standard option for all or some parameters of the pieces. That way, configuration retains its complexity while not becoming a threshold for customers to overcome. In general, Jan Hill believes that offering a personalized product is not a sufficient value proposition. One needs to sell the process as an experience.

Two Approaches for UX Optimization

Intuitively, most companies realize the importance  of a polished experience and give lots of attention to details. In the latest Product Configurator report by cyLEDGE, an extensive and precious overview of the market, Paul Blazek (Combeenation and cyLEDGE) describes an interesting finding: a significant portion of product configurators change from one year to the next, even if the product offering is identical. How much of those changes are owed to rigorous user studies is difficult to assess, but one thing is clear: those studies need to be built in product configurators and systematically done during the life cycle of the product.

Research has uncovered several approaches for conducting UX studies. Design space exploration can be performed at the time of designing and implementing the configurator, while big data analysis and machine learning are tools typically used during the configurator's usage. Unfortunately, to this day, few configurators in activity seem to make use of those powerful tools. It can feel overwhelming and costly to build in such features, but depending on the product and the market, sometimes a CRM integration is everything needed to learn precious insights.

IoT and Co-Customization Process

Several keynotes at this year's conference have converged towards what feels like a new trend in the field: post-purchase customization. Products communicating with users and learning from their behaviour can adapt to changing needs and give birth to a continous co-creation process through the lifetime of the product. The many IoT (Internet of Things) presentations this year are a good barometer of how much attention the topic has been receiving.

Wolfgang Budde from Philips Lighting describes how luminaires will benefit from this approach, by controlling light in a human-centric way: adapting lighting based on day and night cycles, indoor positioning and activity, in order to optimize productivity, health and well-being of the users.

Thomas Gries, from the RWTH Aachen University, makes a convincing point for running shoes as well. When your shoes tell you how many calories you are burning and tell your friends how you are ranked in a marathon, it sounds like a gadget. But what if your shoes could help you run ten years longer by monitoring and preserving your health?

The State of 3D Printing

As a natural and affordable way to manufacture individual products, 3D printing has always been a relevant field for mass customization. However, the adoption of 3D printing has proved to be slower than expected; Martijn Joris from Twikit mentions how his business, like many others, has seen slow growth in the early 2000s, because of the bet it had placed on 3D printing.

Now the technology has reached a sufficient maturity to be included in industrial processes and the production of consumer goods. Thierry Rayna, from the french Ecole Polytechnique, sees an opportunity for the new generation of entrepreneurs. Faster prototyping, faster iterations and faster time-to-market: the integration of 3D printing early in the design phase is a way for start-ups to reach product-market fit without any need for investment. In other words, Rayna transposes the principles of the lean startup to industries where, historically and practically, the need for investment could not be bypassed. More than ever, the bar is low for entrepreneurs with ambitious plans to bring a new product to life.

Overall, this year's MCPC confirmed that the field of mass customization has never lost track of its "raison d'être": fulfilling individual customer's needs as best as possible, without compromise. It is comforting to see most keynote and track speakers insist on putting the customer at the heart of the customization process. We would like to thank our friends from Combeenation for inviting us to take part in the conference, and we look forward to the next one in 2018!

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Since its creation, ShapeDiver has given its users the maximum level of flexibility in creating 3D configurators. We believe that with the experience we have gained and our constant aim for improvement and innovation, we are the ideal fit to give a complete overview over 3D configurator projects and give counseling at each step of their creation. This is why keeping up to date with the latest research results and industry outlooks is so important to us. Get in touch if you want to discuss your project, we'll be happy to help!



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