MASS CUSTOMIZATION VIA PRODUCT MODULARITY


Mass production adopted in the earlier part of the 20th century was based on the principles of interchangeable parts, specialized machines, and division of labor. The focus was primarily on improving productivity through process innovation.

The primary objective was to reduce cost and thus cause an increase in demand. Most large companies ignored niche markets and customer desires, leaving them to the small companies. This manufacturing management paradigm started to loosen its grip on most consumer industries around the 1960s and 1970s in response to developing global competition pressures.

A paradigm shift toward customization was full blown by the late 1980s in several industries, naturally, at different levels. The objective was set as ‘‘variety and customization through flexibility and quick responsiveness.’’

The key features of today’s marketplace are (1) fragmented demand (the niches are the market) (2) low cost and high quality (customers are demanding high-quality products, not in direct relation to the cost of the product), (3) short product development cycles, and (4) short product cycles.

The result is less demand for a specific product but increased demand for the overall product family of the company, whose strategy is to develop, produce, market, and deliver affordable goods with enough variety and customization that almost everyone purchases their own desired product.

The primary (fundamental) prerequisite to achieving mass customization can be noted as having customizable products with modularized components. Examples of customizable (reconfigurable) products include Braun’s flex-control electric razor, which is self-adjusting to the user’s facial profile, Reebok’s Pump shoes that can be (air) pumped for better fit (similar to customizable ‘‘removable’’ casts for foot fractures), and finally Dell’s personal computers, customized by the buyer and assembled specifically for them.

In this context, standardization for customization is a competitive tool for companies marketing several related products, such as Black & Decker’s line of power tools, which use a common set of standardized subassemblies (clusters, modules, etc.).

The primary steps for the design of a mass customizable product are
1. Identifying customer needs: This stage is similar to any product (concept) design stage with the exception of identifying potential personal differences in requirements for a common overall functional requirement for the product.

2. Develop concepts: Concepts (alternatives) should be developed and compared with a special emphasis for allowing modularity in final engineering design. (QFD and Pugh’s methods should be utilized.)

3. Modularization of chosen concept: The chosen design concept should be evaluated and iteratively modified with the objective of modularization (i.e., mass customization) and fit within the larger family of products, with which the proposed design will share modules.

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