Mass customization sounds new and exciting, but really it is just taking elements of our current system of production – elements that have existed for hundreds of years – and mixing them in a new and exciting way.

It has evolved concurrently both from traditional craft production techniques like the style of production that you would see during the renaissance – the pre-industrial revolution – and simultaneously from the post industrial revolution, mass production techniques.

You still see facets of each of these production techniques today and each of them comes with their own costs and benefits.

Engineer-to-Order

Craft production has evolved into something we are all very familiar with today: engineered-to-order production. With that, companies that take a project bid, do research and development, analyze to the customer specifications, go in and engineer, design and build, and then deliver the product and then do it differently for the next customer that comes around.

These companies can offer a great deal of personalization to their customers, but it comes at a very significant cost in terms of the price of the product and in terms of operational efficiency.

So those businesses' particular interest is to drive operational efficiency and be able to pass on cost reductions to their customers to make them competitive.

That's something that engineer-to-order manufacturers have looked at for years.

Mass Production

Simultaneously to this interest from engineer-to-order companies to drive operational efficiency, we see an interest from the mass production companies who already have the operational efficiency.

They already have the assembly line, the economies of scale they are using to manufacture the same good over and over again.

But mass production companies fall short in the sense that they cannot offer value to consumers aside from price. They are making very broad assumptions as to what the marketplace wants, and producing a single product meant to be a one-size-fits-all to individual customers – and that is really not viable today.

So both sides of the production spectrum are looking to break out of this dichotomy, which is that you can either produce a highly customer centric product or produce a standard product very efficiently at a low cost.

Both of these companies are looking at the costs associated with their production models and trying to find out how to do both. How can I provide products that meet unique customer needs, and do so at a high level of efficiency and low cost to the customer?

This is what I would refer to as mass customization.