mass customization

Discussion around mass customization has been going on for more than 20 years. At its core is a tremendous increase in variety and customization without a corresponding increase in costs. In the consumer world, mass customization is readily available through websites where you can have a personal photo or digital image applied to anything from a T-shirt to a mug and nearly the same cost as a mass produced item.

In the B2B industrial manufacturing world, mass customization has its roots in the delivery of nearly identical product that was customized for individual customers. Once the color or dimensional customization change was confirmed with the customer, the manufacturer could deal with the repeated delivery of that designed variation. In many industries, mass customization has required manufacturers to include variation for nearly every delivered order.

The Challenge of Mass Customization for the Flexible Packaging Manufacturer

Manufacturers of flexible custom packaging products are an example of one industry having to deal with this reality. A manufacturer may be making the resealable pouch for a consumer product like trail mix. The trail mix product itself may be very stable and may not vary over long periods. The trail mix may always include the same percentages of dried fruit and nuts. However, the trail mix supplier must deliver constant variation to meet the needs of the fickle, “I want the newest thing,” consumer market. The flexible packaging image varies from season to season. There is springtime trail mix with a package featuring pastels and fresh colors. There is summertime trail mix with a package featuring a bold sun and fun on the beach. There is even “back to school” trail mix with a package featuring students and their books headed off to class.

The management of the image applied to the package or, even possibly the physical material, becomes paramount in planning and executing every order. Setup and changeover become just that much more challenging as every order includes a variation that may have never been done before. In flexible packaging all of this variation is being accomplished for a product that has a tiny unit cost and a customer who is counting on the best possible image to assist in selling their product.

As I sit here enjoying my trail mix in this season’s packaging, I wonder when next season’s will show up at my local store. How custom has your mass customization become? Check out this white paper to see how many flexible manufacturers see collaboration as the key to this advance level of mass customization.