The age of mass customization
Image: Customized shoes by Prada
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The age of mass customization

I-CIO editorial team – January 2013

A perfect storm of technologies and innovation is combining to create what could be the dawn of a new industrial revolution.

It is becoming increasingly easy — and cost effective — to let consumers tailor products specifically to their needs, through the growth of technologies such as 3D printing, crowdsourcing, and open source technology and design. Indeed, customers may well soon start to expect this as standard, particularly in industries such as fashion, consumer hardware and automotive manufacturing.


This is the era of the so-called “makers,” according to one of its chief proponents, Chris Anderson. The former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, Anderson quit his day job to focus on his manufacturing start-up, 3D Robotics. In his latest book, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, he argues that in an age of custom-fabricated, do-it-yourself product design and creation, the collective potential of a million garage tinkerers and enthusiasts could drive a resurgence in manufacturing in post-industrial countries, using new technologies such as 3D printing combined with crowdsourced, open source design. He foresees a future where the “print” button becomes a “make” button.

We are seeing this mass customization already in the automotive industry. Established carmakers such as Ford and BMW are offering high levels of personalization in car specification, but US company Local Motors is taking this to another level with crowdsourced car manufacturing. People submit design prototypes, getting feedback from a 30,000-plus community of designers, fabricators, engineers and enthusiasts around the world, and Local Motors then helps to build the best ones in a small factory over a couple of weekends. Its first community-designed vehicle was a 6.2-liter, V8-engine off-roader, built for $75,000.

Such production models also have the potential to boost economies where traditional manufacturing is in decline. As J. P. Gownder of Forrester predicts: “Mass customization offers an alternative to the mass-produced, price-is-everything Asian factory model. While the US and EU won’t regain their lead in manufacturing, mass customization will lead to a small but important re-industrialization for build-to-order production.”Data feed

•    35% of US online consumers are already interested in customizing product features or purchasing build-to-order products to personal specifications. (Forrester)
•    MakerBot claims to have sold 10,000 3D printers in 2011. The company’s Replicator 2 Desktop 3D printer, which builds up objects in layers only 100 microns thick, costs just $2,199.
•    The 3D printing market worldwide is predicted to be worth $3.1 billion by 2016, rising to $5.2 billion by 2020. (Wohlers Associates)

First published January 2013
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