Configuration Management and Mass Customization

We have discussed some issues regarding configuration management already and we will continue to discuss this underlying topic in this blog—it is that important! Mass customization presents specific issues. Mass customization occurs when set up our systems such that customers have the ability to request substantial modifications.

Mass customization works when we take some sensible steps. First, we must design our product for mass customization from the very start of development; post hoc customization tends to be graceless. Secondly, we must provide a core product that does not change—we might call this the “substrate” for the rest of the customization. Thirdly, we should constrain the allowable alteration while still allowing the customer some level of freedom.

We see mass customization in the automotive electronics business, for example, when we allow the customer to specify which gauges they want instrument cluster by instrument cluster. We can even set up our production test equipment to read the work order and verify that the cluster has the appropriate equipment installed.

The use of “apps” on computers, pads (tablets), and phones is another way to introduce mass customization. The company provides the substrate in the form of hardware, an operating system, and a base of apps and the customer supplies the rest.

How do we maintain configuration management in this embarrassment of choices? Industrially, we will use a software tool called a Configurator to help us. Each item has its own configuration. The Configurator ties into the main manufacturing resources planning (MRP) software so that orders occur as they always have, albeit with a higher level of variation. Alternatively, we may use a pull system and lean manufacturing to avoid having stacks of material. Just as a publisher will often print on demand (POD), our manufacturers will now customize on demand.

The key concepts are:
• Substrate
• Flexibility always
• Designed from the start

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