Donal Reddington on mass customization, crowdsourcing and digital manufacturing


Customization links for 19 January

An article in LimaOhio.com includes information on American Trim, a company from Lima, Ohio in the U.S. that is held up by the local Mayor as an example of a enterprise that has successfully pursued a mass customization strategy. American Trim manufactures parts for appliances and heavy trucks.

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In FXStreet.com, John Mauldin wrote a column last November titled ‘The Financial Fire Trucks are Gathering‘. While the first two sections of the column refer to other topics, the third, titled ‘The Millennium Wave’ is an insightful analysis of ‘The Third Wave’ Alvin Toffler‘s book from the 1970′s, which predicted a world wide computer network (which came to reality as the internet) and mass customization. Toffler depicted the First Wave as the agricultural revolution, the Second Wave as the industrial revolution, and the Third Wave as the electronic data and communication revolution. ‘The Millennium Wave’ also looks at the nature of change. John Mauldin writes:

“Although some suggest that we’re still in the middle of Toffler’s Third Wave, I would suggest that what we are facing is different in both substance and character.

The Third Wave was actually the result of an innovation cycle that we can call the Information Age. I believe we are only halfway through the Information Age, with more profound changes as to how we work and play just around the corner.

But this time something is different. Instead of one wave of innovation following another, I believe that we are going to see multiple waves of significant change and innovation surge all over the world at roughly the same time. The combined effects are going to produce a period of change unlike anything seen in the history of man.

It will change things in ways that almost defy the imagination and at a pace that will leave one breathless. On the one hand, the Millennium Wave will be seen as a source of good, as we will live healthier and longer and there will be more of the basic necessities of life and more life options. On the other hand, the very ground we walk on will seem like it is shifting. The roadmap we have in our minds for our future will require a constant fine tuning (if not major reprogramming) in order to determine our position.

The more precisely you plan your future, the harder that change will hit you.”

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Austin Weber, writing in Assemblyblog.com, (part of the online version of Assembly Magazine) describes the need for the U.S. auto industry to switch to a build-to-order strategy. He notes that Matthias Holweg and Frits Pil, professors affiliated with the International Motor Vehicle Program, a research consortium based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, Cambridge, MA), believe the auto industry desperately needs a flexible production system that addresses complexity issues by focusing on strategies such as “decoupled assembly” and body shop modularity.

The article also describes:

…another interesting concept that could revolutionize the age-old way in which cars are manufactured and distributed…a system in which local car dealers would engage in final assembly.

Here’s how it would work: A basic car, consisting of an engine, chassis and body, would be delivered to a dealer. Then, a team of individuals would set about customizing the vehicle for each buyer’s individual tastes. In other words, final assembly would be done at the point of sale. It would be interesting to see an automaker that’s bold enough to try that kind of innovative strategy.”

The proposal described in the Assemblyblog article sounds a lot like that proposed by Local Motors, featured in a recent post on this website.

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