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The rise in bespoke production, product personalisation and additive manufacturing

November 13, 2019

November 13, 2019

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The rise in bespoke production, product personalisation and additive manufacturing

If you asked a gentleman 200 years ago where he bought his clothes, the tailor would likely be his answer. Today, most of our clothes are mass-produced but for most of history that wasn’t the norm. Clothes would be tailored and often followed by several fittings. Every person is different and – as most of us can attest to – standard sizes don’t provide the best fit for everyone.

If you asked a gentleman 200 years ago where he bought his clothes, the tailor would likely be his answer. Today, most of our clothes are mass-produced but for most of history that wasn’t the norm. Clothes would be tailored and often followed by several fittings. Every person is different and – as most of us can attest to – standard sizes don’t provide the best fit for everyone.

Today, the interest in personalised items has rebounded and people have regained interest in the bespoke; from monogrammed leather goods and custom jewellery to personalised holidays and custom-built bicycles. In the age of consumerism, standards are higher than ever. We don’t want just any product. We want ones specifically designed for us and our unique, personal needs. In a Deloitte research survey, 36% of participants expressed an interest in purchasing customised products and 48% said they were willing to wait longer for the service. A majority was also willing to pay more, especially for prestige products.

Paradoxically, this desire to buy personalised products is often overrun by convenience: 42% of those interested in customised products or services would still rather choose from a selection of pre-prepared options when it comes down to the decision time. Enter mass personalisation – the concept of mass-produced items or services that can be altered to meet consumer preference based on the individual’s data. A streaming service may modify your feed depending on your viewing history, a pop-up could be programmed to show recommendations based on past purchases. Or you can buy a car pre-equipped with all your favourite options.

Tweaking the end product during the purchase path is another variation of this customisation concept, a standard basic product but the customer gets to choose specific customisable elements through the purchasing process. It could be a packaged holiday to Thailand with the choice of three-star accommodation or five-star and a selection of stopover options. Or a mass-produced computer with customisable elements, like Dell offers.

Bespoke, as a nineteenth-century gentleman might define it, is less common and is often considered more exclusive and luxurious. The item is specially made-to-order with the customer in complete control. We’re talking suits, gaming computers and designer wedding dresses. Even bicycle manufacturers have started to build custom bikes for any imaginable body type and personal preference. London-based Kennedy City Bicycles is a great example of made-to-order bicycles. The design is primarily picked by the buyer online through a ‘decision tree’ which helps the customer to decide each design element.

Mass customisation and mass personalisation have hit a sweet spot between convenience and versatility, allowing customers to get exactly what they want within a reasonable price range. The company can mass produce but at the same time creating a highly personalised product.

Whilst the bespoke product is relatively niche in consumer goods, it’s much more common than you might think. Industries such as aviation and mining rely upon machinery requiring highly-specialised parts – parts that are not always needed in large enough volumes to justify a full production run. Some parts must even be customised to the specific machine in which they will serve. Traditionally, this has demanded high production costs for a handful of a specific spare parts needed, there was simply no other way of doing it.

But industries are not immune to the high cost of manufacturing and new ways to tackle this issue is always being researched. Recent experiments in using technologies such as 3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, can speed-up the process and lower the costs.

Some industries are already creating custom 3D printed products that we are familiar with today such as prosthetics, dental products and some medical devices – a trend that may well evolve into fully developed personalised drugs. This would be a natural progression as more and more industries are starting to follow suit such as aviation, mining and shipping. 3D printing is a game-changer, not just because of its ability to custom manufacture, but because it can do so in hours instead of days, blurring the line between custom made and mass-produced with a potential that’s hard to imagine.

Air New Zealand utilised the technology earlier this year when they ordered 3D printed seat parts hours before a scheduled flight, something that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.

“Rather than having the cost associated with purchasing, shipping and storing physical parts and potentially having to fly an aircraft with an unavailable seat, this system would allow us to print a part when and where we need it, in hours,” Air New Zealand’s chief ground operations officer Carrie Hurihanganui said in a statement.

Bespoke solutions make sense in almost every area of our lives and have already been adopted by industries in which the importance of personalisation comes before the pressure to keep costs low – there simply wouldn’t be any other way of doing it. A lot of industries may be held back by cost, but maybe, with improved technology, the market will find itself moving towards a new era of customisation.

 


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