The role of PLM in mass customization

The role of PLM in mass customization

Product customization is one of the trends that changing the manufacturing landscape these days. Mass production was a mainstream for many manufacturing companies and industries. The appearance of configurable products and manufactured end items was limited. One of the most visible examples of customization in production was Dell. However, even Dell had a very limited ability to configure products. Cost advantage was clear and customers dragged by affordable prices of predefined configurations.

However, business is getting different these days. The demand of customers for customization is getting higher. Technological changes, internet, cloud solutions, supply chain and many other factors are re-shaping manufacturing landscape. Earlier today, I was reading Mashable article –
Why Large-Scale Product Customization Is Finally Viable for Business. The writeup presents an interesting perspective of why mass customization is finally getting affordable and desirable. Here is my favorite quote explaining customer demand for mass customization:

Consumers’ expectations are being shaped by their lives online. Customization plays a large and growing role in digital experiences, from Facebook to Pandora Internet radio to mobile applications like location-aware Google Maps.

One of the elements solutions for mass customization is customer facing product configurator. Here is another interesting passage from the article:

Today’s customer-facing technologies are cheaper and easier to deploy than ever. The price (and time requirement) for developing customer-facing configurators has dropped significantly in the past few years. It’s a fraction of the cost even compared to a few years ago (think $50,000, down from $1 million). And new uses –- like embedding configurators within Facebook — make configurators more accessible (and more social).

Mass customization and product configurator topic made me think about what is the role of PLM in manufacturing of configurable products. Traditional PLM was dealing with customization via heavy loaded engineering to order processes. For most of the cases PLM companies were partnering with companies making product configurators or used ERP-based products. The most complicated part was to integrate multiple systems in a single solution, which required lost of code “hard-wire” and data transformations. The integrated software product line of product configurator – ERP – PLM – ERP and back to the shopfloor and shipping was hardly achievable by most of the manufacturing companies and PLM software vendors.

What is my conclusion? I think customization is the future for many manufacturers these days. The percentage of “configurable” and flexible manufacturing facilities will be growing. It will include online configurators, flexible configuration platforms and integration with production and supply chain. In my view, PLM should play a role in this modernization. It is a huge opportunity and the way to re-shape the future of manufacturing. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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