SOME COMMODITIES ARE JUST COMMODITIES. EVERYTHING ELSE IS UP FOR GRABS. COMPANIES THAT CAN DELIVER MAKE-FOR-ME PRODUCTS CAN GREATLY INCREASE CUSTOMER SATISFACTION AND LOYALTY.
Last year, Volkswagen turned customers into car designers, inviting them to take control of its 3D printer to design their own versions of the carmaker’s Polo model. Miniature versions of the 40 most creative customizations on the mini microcar were produced. The big winner saw a full-sized version of their car come to life – layer upon layer of special plaster-based powder, just the way the German automaker produces all of its prototypes.
It was the proverbial win-win. The amateur designer got a personalized new car; Volkswagen got an interesting new design and some good marketing. But what happens when every customer wants to put their own spin on a car? Or a toaster? Or a toilet?
Mass production will never die, but a new make-for-me model of manufacturing is emerging alongside it. A number of increasingly affordable production technologies – from 3D printers to computer numerical control (CNC) machines – are fueling the technology-driven do-it-yourself “maker movement,” further disrupting the traditional manufacturing business model. As a broad spectrum of customization emerges, from truly unique lots of one to the typical “list of options” model that exists today, companies will have to figure out where they fit in – and fit in profitably – on that continuum.
We are witnessing the beginning of the democratization, decentralization, and hyperpersonalization of manufacturing: just in time, just in place, and just for me. Access to lower-cost 3D printers, CNC machines, and a number of other technologies available at price points lower than ever before gives the public power that it wouldn’t have access to otherwise.
In an increasingly connected world, customers can compare notes and collaborate, share their positive and negative experiences through social media, and interact directly with companies to tell them what they want and what they don’t.
Manufacturers will have to rethink their design and production processes. Organizations will have to incorporate insights derived from continuous customer engagement at every step along the value chain and be willing to quickly – and constantly – redesign their business models in this make- for-me future.