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The Power of 3D Customization – An Introduction

3D Customization is when a customer designs, personalizes or customizes a product in 3D. Often the changes the customer makes to the product occur in real time and are immediately visible to the customer. Once the customer is happy with the object that they’ve created, they can then have it manufactured. This is usually done through digital manufacturing techniques such as laser cutting or 3D printing.

MrMaria_1

The Mr Maria configurator

3D Customization tools or processes are immediate mass customization tools that connect directly to digital manufacturing. These tools let one interact with the customer, let one design products quickly, let one make limited editions, enable local manufacturing and are an example of on demand production. These tools give real time feedback and interaction to the user and the product or service is changed according to the wishes of the consumer. By partaking in the design effort the consumer has a higher feeling of endowment and a higher affect towards the object that they’ve helped to create. This object better fits their needs, tastes, desires or mood. The product can also be more functional by being customized to fit their body or to have an increase in functionality specific for that one customer. A unique handle for a golf club that perfectly fits one’s hand or a prosthetic made for a market of one. Or perhaps a prosthetic that is not only uniquely functional because it is patient specific but also has a particular design just for that one person. Or perhaps a prosthetic that has a unique size and shape for one person, has a unique design for that person and also is optimized for their weight and strength. The goal of 3D Customization is to in the shortest possible time frame make visible to prospective customers what it is that they want and then to deliver the manufactured good to them.

Why Now?

Over the past decades mass waves of digitization have swept over our planet. Books, music, movies, photos and the press have become digitized. Computers have become an ever more integral part of our lives. They are embedded into our cars, street lights, elevators, hands and pockets. We live in an age of information where bits and bytes swirl and flitter through our world. Our identities, communication, jobs, entertainment and lives take place increasingly in a digital world. Many people are entering a period where they spend about as much time staring at screens as they do looking at the real world. Instant gratification abounds and we are used to instant access to information. The internet gets us the fix that we want when we want it. We rely on networks such as the internet and GPS to tell us where we are, where we are to go and where to eat. Information is fast rushing from one part of the globe to almost any other. Digital information is also fluid and malleable. Songs and images can be remixed and distributed worldwide on phones. These powerful waves of digitization have forever altered our ways of being. They are altering our minds and ways of interacting. We find love online, work online, play online and learn online. Businesses and markets are destroyed and remade. We have at our fingertips more knowledge than previous generations have collectively gathered. What do we do with the enormous potential of a globally connected group of two billion people with access to hereto undreamt computing power and knowledge? Generally we play CandyCrush and Like one another’s statuses. Billions of hours are spent making cats look cute, posing for photographs and accumulating virtual internet points. The proportion of the world that is digitized is still on the increase. New industries are continually being disrupted. More of the world’s money and attention are being made in and devoted to the digital world. Products are instantly available worldwide, remixed, changed, remade and repackaged. Unique things or immediate things are fulfilling people’s needs. Every greater rates of creative destruction, entrepreneurship and development abound. The world is a volatile place with many opportunities and threats. With digitization it is also a more fluid faster world where fortunes are made and lost in months or sometimes minutes. Barriers to entry have come down for many industries and your sector may become vulnerable because your business is someone else’s hobby.

Manufacturing goes digital

In the digital universe everything is instant, potentially unique and malleable. Oflline, AFK this is not yet the case. In manufacturing, digital has made inroads in how products are designed and how designs are shared inside companies. Digital workflows and CAD have increasingly become more prevalent. IT and automation are mainstays of many manufacturing efforts. Often these products are sold online or part of their supply chains are handled online. The manufacturing of products themselves however is surprisingly analog. It is also still rooted in making many millions of things that are identical. One size fits all manufacturing coupled with one size fits all marketing messages are however starting to crumble. In an instantaneous gratification digital world where personalization, remix and unique abound and spur excitement manufacturing can not be left behind. In a digital world where everything is just as I would like it to be: one sized fits all products simply do not excite people anymore. In the PC industry mass customization is widespread. We can now also see the proliferation in car models, options and customization choices begin to occur at scale in the automotive industry. The fashion, jewelry, luxury goods and consumer electronics industries have all flirted with mass customization. Meanwhile through the anticipated increase of IoT sensors inside factories and supply chains much more information will be collected directly in digital. The Internet of Things may let people analyze collate and collect much more data which will lead to optimizations in supply chains. This coupled with the rise of enterprise PLM and CAD will make much of the supply chain a digital affair, eventually. By coupling ERP, PLM, IoT sensors and machine and process readouts the command and control of manufacturing will increasingly become completely digital and integrated as well. In a just in time world where everyone is looking for efficiency and a reduction in error rates this will be a welcome set of tools.

Digital Manufacturing

Mindsets, product portfolios, processes and business models are deeply rooted in making a million copies of a mass marketed thing, however. Large series dominate. The installed base in physical equipment for mold making, injection molding, tooling is immense. The investment in these mass manufacturing supply chains is considerable. Practices geared towards optimization and the perfection of the same repetitive action have dominated since the Henry Ford days. New buzzwords fly but essentially mass production at its very core is just like in the Model T-Days. When this world meets the instantaneous digital world something’s got to give. Manufacturers are trying to unlock value by offering customization and personalization. They see customized and better fitting products as paths to higher margins and ways to future proof their businesses. Managing many more SKU’s and many more different paths to a product is challenging however. In a just in time operational excellence world, who wants more SKUs? Customization is seen as a pain to implement and often is. A boon is digital manufacturing equipment. Machines that can produce geometry directly from a file without the additional need for tooling or additional setup costs between jobs. These machines can in an efficient way manufacture unique items. Technologies such as waterjet, laser cutting and 3D printing can augment traditional supply chains to make them more versatile. Most of the equipment and processes could then still be kept in place and much of the customized element would be made via digital manufacturing. By being modular, by being adaptable to different jobs and different throughputs and by being able to make unique things these digital manufacturing technologies give manufacturers the adaptability they need in order to adopt mass customization. 2D printing of unique digital assets into customized communications is already widespread. There the toolchains are well understood. Marrying digital manufacturing equipment with existing supply chains is however not as far along. Quality Assurance and Quality Control of digitally manufactured items is often not a simple task, new materials and processes will have to be certified. Once reliable, repeatable production is possible either through an in house capacity or outside vendor then companies will find it much easier to adopt mass customized products.

Flexibility through Digital Manufacturing

If this capability has been created then it is not a question of trying one variant of one product but in quickly adopting the same technologies throughout a product portfolio wherever they make sense. The software doesn’t care if its a hearing aid or better driving glove or a jig. Likewise, the 3D printer doesn’t care what shape the headphone is (within reason) or indeed if this batch is not headphones but surgical guides or dental aligners. The 3D printer doesn’t care if all thousand of them need to be unique or exactly the same. Famously, in 3D printing complexity is free. Unique is free as well. Once a system of design tool, digital supply chain, digital manufacturing and delivery is set in place the same system could make a myriad of products. New products could be developed every week or changed as the day goes on. A completely digital supply chain from DJ to listener lets a song be instantly made, delivered and remixed. Physical products have hereto not been as fast. Companies can however make much of their value chains digital from the customer input to tracking to production. By being faster to market, being able to take more risks and being able to put out more products but with the same systems in place digital supply chains make companies more flexible and proactive in anticipating new business opportunities.

Consumer Design

Many companies are working on industrializing 3D printing and other digital manufacturing tools. QA, material availability and ancillary issues are being worked on by the aerospace and medical industries. It will take time for the investments done by these industries to fully percolate through to others. Meanwhile there is a challenge that is not being solved. How do you give everyone exactly what you want? This challenge is one which companies in many cases have not faced head on. If you can produce a customized oatmeal for everyone, how exactly do you get people to select this oatmeal? How do you explain the customer journey to the customer so they are sufficiently empowered to undertake it? How exactly does one partner with a customer to design something? What choice mechanism is best? What is the UX and UI for this tool? How easy must such a tool be to use? How much choice do you give a customer? Too much and they freeze through the paradox of choice. Too little and they don’t feel that your product adds value. “Just right” as Goldilocks would say and the customer gets what they want when they want it and they’ll like it more than anything else they have because they had a hand in making it.

Twikit

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The Twikit solution

This is where we come in. Twikit has developed a digital supply chain from customer to manufacturing for 3D Customization. We are uniquely experienced in managing the expectations of consumers in a design process. We know just how much choice to give them to let them design and feel an endowment effect towards this design but without making the process to complex. We know how to give your customers the freedom while not letting them be overwhelmed by a blank canvas or become frozen by the paradox of choice. We develop easy to use UI’s and UX’s that result in high conversions on consumer made items.

Through Twikit’s tools people can in the browser immediately visualize the changes that they are making to an object. A lightweight client side implementation via embedding or API’s means that the Twikit Bot can be embedded in existing web pages or even integrated with existing webshops. Not only are our tools easy to use but they also embody our collective wisdom on how it is that consumers wish to customize.

Twikit lets your designs be customizable in many ways. Consumers can add text, add a vector or other drawing, data such as birthdays or data imported from existing datasets could be the basis for a shape of a design or a pattern on it. Designs can be sized to perfectly fit the consumers face based on measurements or 3D scans. Insoles or orthotics can be made to be more functional as well as give a better fit. If you know what your customers want, then we can take one of your designs or products and make it customizable.

Twikit is not only a tool for the consumer. We can also handle the 3D printing production part of your fulfillment should you wish. Unique order information and a unique design is turned into a 3D printed product in a box that we can ship to your end customer. Packaging, QA, QC, labeling and fulfillment can all be handled by us. You just have to embed the tool in your website or webshop.

If you want to integrate a customized product into an existing one, we can ship the 3D printed item directly to you for final assembly.

Should you already have your own 3D printing manufacturing capability we could integrate with that and let you manufacture yourselves.

We’d love to speak with you in order to see if 3D Customization could unlock value for your business, help you enter new markets or give your customers exactly what they want. Contact our Antwerp or New York office to see if 3D Customization can help you outcompete.

 

Definitions

Mass Customization is, according to Joseph Pine, “developing, producing, marketing and delivering affordable goods and services with enough variety and customization that nearly everyone finds exactly what they want.”

Couture, tailor made or artisanal is a handmade product that is often unique.

Personalization is the act of making a personalized, often unique, good or service for an individual.

Open Innovation is when companies listen to and work together with people outside the firm to generate ideas and feedback on products as they are developed.

Co-Creation is when customers actively collaborate with companies in the design and specification of goods and services during their development phase.

Co-design is when products are designed in collaboration with all the major stakeholders in the product both inside and outside of the company.

Prosumer is a consumer who is involved in the creation of their product and is therefore halfway between consumer and producer.

Agile Software Development, Agile Product Development and Agile Engineering are processes through which products are developed iteratively in two week sprints.

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