Consumers are looking for personalised products – Digital Manufacturing holds the answer
DISRUPTIONHUB Commentary by Digital Forming
Over recent years consumers have increasing exposure to the idea of being able to personalise a product prior to purchase. For years now, the motor industry has been offering online car configurators. For example, Jaguar offers its customers the ability to choose engine size, exterior colours and finishes, interior trims, alloy wheels and all of the optional extras, all without having to visit the showroom (see Figure 1). But what about other forms of customization, such as a unique piece of jewellery, or an item of homeware that the consumer can personalise? One of the best success stories for mainstream mass customization is of course Nike ID.
More companies are embracing the idea of mass customisation in different ways. Although a custom made item is likely to cost more to produce than a mass produced one, a consumer is willing to pay a 60% premium for a customised item according to a recent report by Bain. MIT’s smart customization group cited similar figures for consumer willingness to pay for custom products; but indicated that the premium could reach as high as 300% for an “ideal” product.
In the fashion industry, Burberry and Longchamps both offer customisation and personalisation of their products with online customisation experiences.
Although the higher end sectors of fashion and design are starting to embrace this new shopping experience, customisation is yet to become commonplace. Below, we analyse how Digital Manufacturing could change the face of mass customisation.
Mass Customisation:What are the Challenges?
A major challenge is the expense of assembling a development team with the skills to create the customisation experience, product design team, product managers, web team, user-experience experts, graphic designers may all have to be pulled together to create a new section of the website and create a working interactive interface.
Powerful Yet Intuitive User Interface?
How do you ensure that a customer will intuitively interact with your customisable product? User interfaces need to be clean, simple and self-explanatory. It is vital to encourage consumers to be creative by providing them with simple controls. The consumer is likely to have little to no experience in designing their own products. Giving options based on style, colour and size as shown in the Longchamps (Figure 3) customiser, gives the consumer the flexibility they desire, without having to start from a blank canvas. To be able to successfully market a customisable product, it is imperative to get the balance between too much choice and too little. Give a consumer too much choice and they may be confused, and not complete the purchase. Give the consumer too little, and their goals can’t be met: they will not purchase, and will not return. According to Land’s End, customers engaging in customization are 34% more likely to revisit a retailer so consumer research and focus groups are key.
Integrating the Supply Chain
One of the potentially most costly challenges businesses that want to offer customisation will come across is the end-to-end supply chain. How do you offer a bespoke product using a standard supply chain? The cost implications of holding stock for variations of a similar item will be very high, and predicting what variations will be most popular may result in high stock obsolescence.
Making products on demand with traditional manufacturing processes is very challenging, and depending on the manufacturing process can be very costly. For example, custom made jewellery can carry a very high price tag. The advent of a maturing Digital Manufacturing industry is starting to address some of these issues particularly through a form of digital manufacturing that most people are now aware of – 3D Printing.
3D Printing – What is it?
Often employed for rapid prototyping due to its speed and flexibility, 3D Printing is now being used to deliver finished products directly to the customer. 3D Printing or Additive Manufacturing is the process of manufacturing an item or number of items using a layering process. The process begins with the design of a 3D file. That 3D file is then converted into multiple 2D slice files, which are sent to the printer. The printer produces the model layer by layer, by reading the 2D files. It prints each layer one on top of the other, and the heat, light or glue in the process fuses those layers together.
The nature of the process allows you to be able to build multiple versions of the same object, or multiple different objects, meaning the constraints of traditional mass production methods such as injection moulding are no longer there to hold the designer or the consumer back.
Benefits of Digital Manufacturing/ 3D Printing:
No Stock Costs
One of the main economic benefits of making products on demand is that there is no stock or warehousing costs for those products. When a consumer pays for the order, the product can be made on demand with very little waste, and can be shipped directly to the customer or the retailer’s distribution centre. This minimises the need for large storage facilities, minimising the cost. The retailer does not have to finance stock in the expectation of a sale. This also allows the retailer to be more daring with products, and offer a far wider range.
No Warehousing Costs
As products are made on demand in response to a purchase, the retailer does not have to provision warehousing space for products.
Wider, More Daring Product Range
Because the retailer has no stock or warehousing costs, they can offer a wider range of products than a traditional retailer, and they can afford to be more daring with their products, since the cost of failed products in minimised.
Adapt to Market Changes
The retailer can quickly update product to reflect the latest trends, or based on analytics of sales of existing products.
Embrace New Materials
Live products can embrace new materials or manufacturing processes as they become available. For example, a jewellery initially launched in silver, could be extended to include a gold or platinum option after launch.
Engage and Involve The Consumer
Digital Manufacturing also allows the retailer or marketplace to give much more design freedom to the consumer. It provides them with the necessary tools to enable the consumer to co-create the product their buying, whether it be a tech accessory, homeware or jewellery. Digital manufacturing gives retailers the freedom to offer more choice to the consumer.
The retailer is able to track customisation choices made by the consumer. This gives invaluable understanding of consumer behaviour and preferences, and can be fed back to inform future product decisions.
Toolsets for Customisable Products
What tools are currently out there for retailers who want to offer this type of solution to their consumers?
Digital Forming: [Digital Forming] is in the vanguard of a wave of entrepreneurs who want to make it easy for anyone to design and create bespoke products at the click of a button- WIRED
Digital Forming helps businesses by giving them the necessary tools to offer mass customisation.
With the help of Digital Forming’s technology, retailers can set up an interactive products that integrate seamlessly in to their existing website. Digital Forming’s proprietary ODO software (Figure 4) gives 3D designers the tools they need to create interactive experiences around their 3D designs. Designers can import a model in to the ODO software, and then begin to build a customisation experience and unique interface that will run in their online shop with very little web development work required. The product designers can set parameters around their designs, so that consumers can tweak designs to fit their needs or desires.
Within the software you are able to link to a supply chain comprising over 200 different 3D printing materials, with a range of plastics, metals, ceramics and resins. The platform also gives retailers the ability to link back to their own supply chain meaning that the platform does not have to be used for only 3D printing manufacturing methods, but can also use the platform as a configurator for many product categories.
As the customisation interface integrates seamlessly into the retailer’s web site, the consumer does not need CAD skills; they interact with the product using familiar web page controls such as buttons and sliders – whilst interacting with the product in 3D. Live customisation examples are shown in Figure 5and Figure 6below.
As soon as the customer presses to pay for the item, the manufacturer receives a 3D file, or other build instructions for the product to be produced. They then manufacture the item and send it straight to the customer or distribution centre. The Digital Forming solution covers the whole end to end process and alleviates the headaches that people encounter when selling custom products.
About Digital Forming
Digital Forming has a dedicated team of software engineers, product designers and experts that have developed tools to empower business to exploit digital manufacturing for mass customization. Using our software tools, a business can tailor a direct to market proposition to suit their needs.
For more information on Digital Forming please contact Victoria May, Community and Supply Chain Manager via: [email protected]