Mass Customomization - drive sustainable Flexibility with MES

Moving from mass production to mass customization requires inherent process flexibility, better R&D, and highly orchestrated throughput - the IT infrastructure plays a critical role

(PresseBox) ( Porto, )
Today the consumer is king; almost anything from a car to a mobile phone can be customized. All the customers need to do is get on a website, choose the components they desire and create their own end-product. There is also a growing trend in B2B transactions where customers can customize a machine, component or part the way they want.

This is truly incredible considering that most manufacturing plants in the world are still geared up to a large extent to mass produce goods. And in all honesty, to be able to have a sustainable operation and to realize economies of scale, larger more complex manufacturing units are the need of the hour.

The ability to mass produce customized goods is a very complicated affair. More choice to the customer means more product options to be manufactured, which in turn means more parts, components and accessories to fulfill each production order. That requires inherent process flexibility, better R&D, and highly orchestrated throughput.


In the hay days of the industrial revolution, a plethora of products became available for the consumers world-wide. These were the days of mass production, where each and every manufacturer mass produced a product or maybe at the most, a couple of variants. The model for production those days was predominantly based on the Push strategy, where products were manufactured continuously, and various marketing strategies were put in place to create, increase and then sustain demand, until a new improvised version would be introduced and the same cycle would be repeated again.

As time passed the Pull strategy started to be considered more effective. But in the current scenario, where the markets have become truly well connected and transparent in nature, manufacturers face many complex challenges, as neither a pure Pull nor a pure Push strategy can be employed for production.

Global marketplace has become quite challenging for all manufacturers, where consumerism is on the rise and knowledge about products their specification is freely available. Some consumers can afford to pay a premium for high customization of merchandize, some just want minor or aesthetic change at minimal cost, whereas some market segments still want the standard product.

Now imagine that all orders received by a plant are for customized goods. This is a highly complex scenario, considering that the plant needs to use the same set of material, process equipment, manpower and yet produce something different every time.

The three main barriers which any production unit will face when preparing for mass customization are:
  • planning production in such a way that economies of scale are realized,
  • coordinating the production in such a way that production remains efficient and lead times are met, along with sustained R&D efforts,
  • maintain product quality, as even in the age of mass customization and consumerism, it is imperative to maintain product quality, in order to maintain customer base.
For a manufacturing plant the IT infrastructure in place will play a critical role in managing the challenges in mass customization, as the amount of flexibility and coordination required is only possible when the right IT application is in place.


Let us take an example of a toy manufacturer, which offers about 100 products on its website and stores and allows 5-6 customizations in their looks and functionality. It means that there are roughly about 500-600 variants of the core 100 products, which may need to be manufactured in varied quantities at any given time, depending on demand and market. Also, the company may choose to manufacture certain products in most popular variants and keep in their stores for over the counter sale and for website sale it may need to customize its product for each order. Now let’s see how this mass customization can be effectively handled through process IT applications such as MES.

First and foremost, since the company manufactures both standard and customized products, the MES needs to provide production planning based on a combination of the Push and Pull models for manufacturing. It needs to interface with the ERP or the Web ordering system to understand the demand which basically exerts the pull.

Since the MES gets real time data from the ERP, it may then schedule production based on agreed lead times considering both the demand created and standard push production to feed stores. In order to meet the pull created, the MES needs to plan the flow such that major bottlenecks or predicted bottlenecks push the requisite amount of goods, in order to maintain on-time deliveries across the supply chain. Modern MES applications come with specific WIP management features, which help process owners plan production while maintaining optimum efficiency levels and also allows them to implement a back-up plan or CAPA in case of major break-downs or quality issues occur.

The MES application by its very nature coordinates with other IT applications, which allows for an effective inventory management. In our above example where there are 500-600 variants of products manufactured by the same plant, it means that there would be a complex mix of parts and components to be managed in just the right quantity to avoid both stock-out and excess stock situations. The MES can communicate with the SCM application, in order to place automated booking for materials, providing alerts to personnel, helping them deliver requisite material just in time.

The MES based on the demand trend can also provide forecast for the suppliers, which would enable them to keep the material ready in advance. After procuring the material, the MES application also allows shop-floor to use the correct material as it has the ability to study the spec and alert the operators how to execute a particular order, the application also orchestrates the flow based on the most efficient mix of steps, ensuring best output for KPIs is obtained.

Along with enabling end-to-end visibility of operation and process flexibility the MES application also comes equipped with an SPC module, which allows for analysis of the process data and provides input for both process and product improvement. Based on the process data collected and analyzed by the MES, the toy maker may decide it is time to upgrade a particular process equipment to improve efficiency or introduce a new type of material for its products which lowers costs by 5% and is safer for users as opposed to previous material.

Another key deliverable when it comes to mass customization is to maintain and improve on the set quality standards, and the MES is also equipped with a process specific QMS, which allows for the management of quality throughout the process, right from material conforming to specs, to machining quality, process quality, end-product quality, compliance reporting, CAPA and issue containment

So to sum it up, if you are a manufacturer who is looking to provide more customization for your product offerings, while maintaining your process flexibility, efficiency and quality, all the while improving and innovating to manufacture better products, it is absolutely critical that you choose the right MES application for your operation.

See also Case Study
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