Donal Reddington on mass customization, crowdsourcing and digital manufacturing


Can snowboards be mass customized?

Mass customization is always associated with a high degree of automation and machine-based manufacturing. After all, central to the premise of mass customization is that the product can be provided at a cost similar to mass produced alternatives. It is generally accepted that ‘craft’ production, with a high percentage of the total work carried out by one person, cannot be considered mass customization.

However, if you look a little closer, many of the tried and trusted examples of mass customization are very labour intensive. All of the customized shoes currently available from major brands are still manufactured by people sitting at a workbench, most likely in East Asia. So the boundary between craft-based customization and mass customization is not always as clear-cut as one might expect.

A perfect example of this is the snowboarding sector. Most of the suppliers in this market offer their customers some degree of customization, either in the decorative or functional aspects of the snowboard. However, the manufacturing process is still very much an art form as it is a science. A recent article about Ascension Snowboards Inc. in the Spokane Journal of Business.

The article describes how John L. Minor, CEO of Ascension:

“..decided to produce custom-made boards partly because consumers in general are starting to prefer customized products, such as computers. The snowboard market in particular is very graphically driven, and customers want the opportunity to express their own ideas and personalities on their snowboards, he says. Also, as a father, Minor says he couldn’t find snowboards for his children that met his expectations.”

The article gives a good description of the actual manufacturing process, which involves building up the various ‘layers’ of the board. Interestingly, Ascension makes its own materials, which allows it to accelerate the production process, so that customers can receive their snowboards within days, rather than the typical wait of several weeks for a custom board. Once the company starts selling its snowboards online shortly, it will add a real-time counter feature on its Web site, which will tell customers how many days it will take for a snowboard to arrive at their doors.

This vertical integration (making its own materials) is an interesting alternative strategy for achieving fast turnaround times. While this was not the only reason why Ascension choose this approach, it does raise the question:

If an order for a customized product can be turned around within days, does it matter if the actual manufacturing was done in a craft environment rather than an industrial one?

De-facto mass customization could be used to describe a situation where traditional methods are used to manufacture a customized product, but innovative processes are applied to other aspects of the business such as supply chain management, so that the customer gets the finished product at mass produced speed.

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2 Responses to “Can snowboards be mass customized?”

  1. pick!t Says:

    Can snowboards be mass customized? – MadeForOne.com

    “Mass customization is always associated with a high degree of automation and machine-based manufacturing. After all, central to the premise of mass customization is that the product can be provided at a cost similar to mass produced alternatives. It is

  2. Billy Says:

    can anyone tell me the Physics of the snowboard like mass, friction force, etc… email me at acdcnkc@aol.com
    i would appreciate it.

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