We all know that nothing in this world stands still. But sometimes change occurs at an unprecedented rate. Now is one of those times. How we as an industry and as individual organizations react to it will dictate our future success and ability to compete.

Customers have always wanted more. More choices, more options, more extras and more features. The current challenge we face is the speed at which they want it delivered. They want everything right now. No delays, no hitches, no exceptions. And – here’s the kicker – they don’t want to pay more for it.

Meeting the expectation of mass individualization

“Business leaders today face the challenge of moving their enterprises to the next level, that of digital business transformation – coupling digital technologies with organizational, operational, and business model innovation to create new ways of operating and growing the business,” writes Marc Van Herreweghe in the whitepaper ‘The 4th Industrial Revolution: Opportunity and Imperative — Evolution for Some, Revolution for Others’

Meeting the expectation of mass individualization

The ‘4th Industrial Revolution’ enables enterprises to drive changes in their business models and ecosystems, leveraging digital competencies and facilitating accelerated revenue and profit growth going forward.  


One of the key enablers and design principles of the 4th Industrial Revolution, is about connecting and being connected, which will require a different level of standardization. Thanks to the new CPS (cyber-physical systems) open standards, people and smart factories will be able to connect and communicate to each other via the Internet of Things. This new and fast way of communication will be essential for successful and innovative manufacturing going forward.

But is your organization in a position to go forward? How will you ensure that the products you design meet complex individual requirements? Can your manufacturing produce what your engineers have designed based on the demands of the customer? And then can you deliver and service that tailored product on a grand scale?

Coping with complexity

The complexity of the problem cannot be overstated. Products are becoming more complicated, as are the processes that support their design and production. Old solutions won’t suffice.

In the 2015 academic paper ‘Product Design for Mass-Individualization’ by Y. Korena, M. Shpitalnik, P. Guc and S.J. Hua, presented at the CIRP 25th Design Conference on ‘Innovative Product Creation’, the authors neatly summarized “the challenges of product design” if ‘Mass Individualization’ is to be successfully achieved.

They argued that making the Mass Individualization paradigm a reality requires innovations in three areas:

  • New Solution Experience for product design and simulation
  • Assembly of a huge variety of modules into platforms
  • Cyber-physical systems to facilitate interactions between buyers and manufacturers of platforms and modules

Nest stop: Mass innovation

In short, it is crystal clear that it is the combination of those three key elements – simulation, synchronization and collaboration –  that are vital to successful product design for mass individualization. 

This prescient paper concluded that: “We strongly believe that the significance of the Mass Individualization paradigm will not only change the business and manufacturing models, but also will facilitate mass innovations. This new paradigm will enable many customers and consumers to become innovators and small business investors/owners.”

Okay, that’s the theory, but what does that mean for your organization in the here and now?

Simulate, synchronize, collaborate…

First, you must prepare for all likely product configurations using the virtual world to simulate and test the product options. This allows all possible configurations to be validated before virtually validating the manufacturing processes. Rules can be created so that only validated configurations are built – ensuring higher quality and customer satisfaction. 

At the same time, you must streamline operations. The factory floor becomes a logistical challenge: how will each machine work with another to achieve the optimum result? And how will multiple reconfiguration of the product change that? Again, this can now be achieved in your onscreen ‘virtual factory’ before a single screw is tightened in the real one.

Working as one

Operational excellence is accomplished by synchronizing all stakeholders – design, engineering, manufacturing, and suppliers – in real-time, so one part of the process flows seamlessly into the other, with everybody and everything working as one.

Working as one

To manage a variety of new challenges and meet unique customer demand with quality products, manufacturers of industrial equipment must have a single source of information about products, people, processes, and production that is secure and easily accessible, and that enables collaboration among all internal and external company stakeholders,” states the whitepaper Powering the 4th Industrial Revolution: Innovation and the Need for Speed in Industrial Equipment.

A clear view to success

Importantly, everything becomes traceable. Everyone is visible. And every action is transparent – giving your entire ecosystem the insight to execute the right decisions at the right time.

Witness the success story of Chongqing Yinhe Experimental Equipment Co. Ltd, China’s leading manufacturer of environmental and reliability testing equipment.

The company wanted to re-engineer its order fulfillment cycle, thereby accelerating the production and delivery of products tailored to customer requirements. This required the reorganization of its product architecture by the adoption of a more modular approach to development – allowing the company to respond to customer needs without sacrificing productivity.

What’s more, as products became more complex and the number of components rose, Chongqing Yinhe needed to turn out more unique products without driving up costs. The software solution they chose enabled them to use a limited number of parts to produce a wide variety of products.

Where are you heading?

Companies like Chongqing Yinhe are clearly leading by example. They have learned – and are continuing to learn – how best to align all the pieces of the complicated production puzzle using the new tools of the trade.

The exponential use of technology will have a huge impact on what and how we do things going forward. For those embracing this new journey, the benefits will boost the overall company in four key areas…

- Excellence:
Concepts and principles enabling operational excellence: the best practices and standards of today will only be the norm for tomorrow. Connected and integrated ways of working will enable you to take your business to a different level.

- Reinvention:
Business reinvention: the ability to reinvent yourself and your suppliers and customers in a holistic and integrated way.

- Trust and compliance:
A dynamic production network, including suppliers and customers across your end-to-end global supply chain network.

- Service and experience:
Customer relationship management and connected and integrated tools and technology will enable you to increase customer experience through products and services.”

Those are four ‘destinations’ that any company wishing to compete in today’s market needs to reach. ‘Embrace the journey’ and your organization could also enjoy the digital continuity that will empower it to meet the order of one.

But most companies They will lose sight of the interplay and synergies that are needed for digital transformation and make the mistake of trying to transform through a series of initiatives targeting specific digital competencies. Only organizations that can digitally transform their operations, or partner with suppliers that can help them to do this, will thrive; those that don't may struggle to survive.

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