Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Merits of uniqueness

For a long time many industries supplied market solutions adapted to customers’s particular needs. The automobile industry is one of the most widespread examples. Personal computers is another. This product re-featuring to end-user specifications is known as mass customization. It is based on a number of discrete product functions and features required by buyers during the sales process. Manufacturing production lines and their respective automated planning and control systems have been designed to provide such solutions in many product offerings around the world. The times of Ford’s T-model for which you could “choose any color for your car as long as it was black”, are gone for good. 
However, product personalization goes one significant step beyond mass customization. Here, subsequent production lines will need to support the manufacturing of products personalized to end user specifications in all their aspects. That is to say, products only made for and uniquely usable by their individual buyers. Such are exclusively ‘personal’ items. In the ophthalmics industry this type of personalization is still very rare. Until recently, similar products were only feasible in small production volumes, and were (are) mainly manufactured by craftsmen using tools and manual labor.  There are a few known initiatives, where spectacle frames are ‘manually’ personalized to the bearer’s face morphology. However, no production lines are yet known, whereby fully personalized spectacles (frames, lens geometry and treatments) are created with minimal human intervention, and in larger, economically viable, and commercially attractive output production volumes. Notwithstanding, automated production of personalized spectacles in potentially more significant volumes appears quite feasible today, following the work done in the EC funded project Made4U, in which we developed the necessary technologies and systems in support of this objective. 
But one should still raise the question: Why should personalization of spectacles be of any interest to end users, and what are the selling arguments about the added value these new niche and probably pricey products might offer? In the following we shall answer these questions based on our own project experiences to-date.
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