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Mass Customization - The Development Of Mass Customization, The Production Process, The Customer, The Company

manufacturing centered customized unit

The prevalence of customized goods has waned since the industrial revolution in favor of mass-produced goods, and for good economic reasons. Since industrial technology allowed for the mass production of virtually identical goods, the input costs for each unit declined, allowing firms to allocate their resources more efficiently via mass production rather than paying the extra cost per unit involved in tailoring each item toward customized specifications. Thus, mass production allowed companies to achieve economies of scale, a key to keeping prices low and gaining an edge on their competitors.

Mass customization, however, uses advances in information technology (IT) and computerized manufacturing to reverse this trend and once again bring customized goods to the forefront. It signals a shift from a product-centered approach to manufacturing—where the customer buys whatever the company decides to make—to a customer-centered approach—where the company makes exactly what the customer wishes to buy. Mass customization in manufacturing combines build-to-order assembly, just-in-time inventory control, high-tech database marketing, and IT-enhanced order-fulfillment systems to enable firms to take advantage of mass production's economy of scale while creating a product to individual specifications. In other words, thanks chiefly to breakthroughs in IT, companies can make individualized products without substantially increasing their per-unit costs. This helps keep prices down and enables manufacturers to continue to reap profits while providing greater value to the customer.

Mass customization is a reversal of the manufacturing logic symbolized in the early 20th century by Henry Ford, whose moving assembly-line model revolutionized manufacturing, further severing it from the individualized processes and customization of previous years toward a more or less monolithic manufacturing process centered around the product, not the customer. This ethos was crystallized in Ford's classic quip, "People can have the Model T in any color—so long as it's black."

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