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Mass Customization Monday #11

Mass Customization Monday is our weekly collection of the most interesting mass customization news. The Twikit team sifts through scholarly articles, publications and news to discover the diamonds in the rough for you.

Origami Manufacturing

Digital manufacturing technologies are advancing all the time. Laser cutters, water jet machines and 3D printers are getting less expensive and more capable. A team at Texas A&M has developed a new digital manufacturing technology to join the digital manufacturing arsenal. They’ve taken origami and kirigami manufacturing and turned it into a mass customization technology that is easy to use for many people. They call their technology custom cyber manufacturing.

Origami_manufacturing

The origami manufacturing test rig which seems to consist of a Dobot robot arm with its suction cup attachment and a motion stage.

Origami manufacturing folds a sheet of plastic into a shape. Kirigami manufacturing cut and folds sheets into a shape. These technologies have been used in industry before but they’ve never been commercialized for small scale customization applications.

“It enables regular people to take their ideas and make something customized that’s as good as what they would get if they bought it in a store,” according to Dr. Arun Srinivasa, co-director of the Institute for Manufacturing Systems.

The team sees applications for their technology in braces, furniture, jewelry, boxes and lamp shades. The user would be able to design the mass customized item and essentially let the machine do the rest, similar to other digital manufacturing technologies. Origami manufacturing is especially suited to “thin…hollow..shell-like” things.

 We couldn’t find the academic paper to accompany the article so we’re a bit on the fence right now about origami manufacturing’s capabilities. The set up they have now seems very simple consisting of a motion stage, a laser and a $1500 Dobot robot arm. If it really is so easy to implement and this is the hardware then it is within reach for many people to experiment with. We don’t know yet exactly what the output is however and how well origami-d parts perform.

Having said that if this does work and produces thin walled objects inexpensively then the technology does have a sweet spot. Laser cutting and water jetting are really good at making large flat objects inexpensively and quickly. 3D printing is comparatively much slower and limited in size but can create intricate 3D objects. Lathes and CNC Mills are usually not as automated but can make mid sized objects well in many materials but with less design freedom than 3D printing. If Origami manufacturing could make thin shelled objects quickly then it would have a sweet spot amongst the digital manufacturing technologies.

Lamp shades would be an interesting application for this. If it could make, in a reasonable time frame, 50 CM or so objects from plastic sheets then the resulting objects would also be inexpensive. And if lamp shades would work then designers could in no time come up with many more applications for your interior.

 Laudi Vidni opens bag customization store

Laudi_vidni_custom_bagsThe Laudi Vidni store entrance.

Laudi Vidni, individual spelled backwards, is another company wanting to grow in the mass customized bags space. You can mass customize your bag through selecting a shape, leather, color, lining, stitching and add monograms to the bags. An in store TV screen shows you your customized products before you order and a staffer helps you with the process. Bags are around $450 and take three to five weeks to be made locally. The company also lets you customize on their site and offers over fifty different bag styles and 40 types of leather. You can also get free leather swatches sent to you in order to let you sample the leather beforehand.

 There are currently a lot of handbag companies exploring mass customized handbags worldwide. Entrepreneurs seem to think that the pricing and individuality of handbags makes this ripe for mass customization. Indeed if we see that there are $3000 and even $30000 handbags for sale worldwide then there is a lot of room to maneuver there with even department store entry level bags sometimes starting at $200. Because handbags are a luxury good and have high margins it gives mass customization companies the option of having a mid market offering with the unique ability to customize it. Will future mass customization companies focus on hollowing out high margin items and markets? Or will there be more start ups and initiatives in low value products? It seems like a no brainer to when one has an individualized product to go for high value applications and markets. Especially if this product is already hand made the implementation may be easier than trying to retool a process for a mass produced high volume low price good. Easier implementation and more room to maneuver on pricing would make it more likely that mass customization initiatives would focus on high end fashion goods for the near term.

Sid Mashburn offers online made to measure shirts

sid_mashburn_store_insideSid Mashburn stores include a ping pong table and other quirky unexpected things that make the brand come to life.

Sid Mashburn a clothing retail store and designer is offering online made to measure shirts. The company already hand tailors shirts from in store fittings and now is bringing the experience online. There is a video that shows you how to take your measurements and you can even Skype with a staffer to get advice.

There are a host of online made to measure and mass customization clothing start ups. What we’re seeing lately is that high end traditional clothing, shoes and furniture brands are joining the fray. Whats notable is that small boutiques and relatively small companies such as Sid Mashburn are also at the forefront of mass customization online. These companies are quicker to implement the technology than much larger shirt retailers. As with the handbag example above, if the process is already essentially tailor made then the online implementation is fairly simple. Can some of these small boutiques or chains win online over larger brands?

washburn_made_to_measure_shirt

The Sid Mashburn implementation is very well done. The design and interaction feels very personal and the addition of a possible Skype appointment with a staffer means that personal touch can be carried over into the online transaction. There is a personal video that fits the brand and customization well also.

washburn_made_to_measure_shirt_custom_choice

The company also has two online paths to customize your shirt with two initial choices “I Trust You: The Quick Fix” and “Let Me Do It: The Journey.” This lets customers very quickly choose between having a small set of choices or a very large one. The paradox of choice is a huge issue in mass customization and in this implementation they’ve thought about it throughout the process. The quick fix path is very limited and easy and does not overwhelm you. The journey on the other hand has many more options in fabric and styles. In many goods having two mass customization journeys would be best practice. The high quality level mass customization implementations coming from boutiques suggests that these relatively small businesses are seeing mass customization as a way to win online. They can add the mass customization tooling to their website on top of existing business processes. Will these boutiques crowd the mass customization space? Or will a relatively small company with solid marketing and a good implementation grow to become the largest bespoke shirt company in the world? Is made to measure shirts a niche item or could it for many become the way they order their clothing in the future?

 Custom Jewelry Design

Sharon_KhazzamJewelry designer Sharon Khazzam only makes one off pieces.

Jewelry blog JCK has a very good overview article on customized jewelry trends. The article looks at individual jewelers who are making custom pieces and also jewelry industry giants who are looking at mass customization as well. Stuller is a large manufacturer of jewels and is now offering a white label of its online customization store making its offerings available to its customers. The company also offers CounterSketch which is a real time pricing and design software package that lets a jewelry store offer custom pieces made by Stuller. Small companies are also increasingly looking to make to order rather than have stock. Another trend they identify is to reuse family heirloom stones in new customized pieces.

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