About Mass Customization
Mass Customization is a well-established research area focusing on enabling a production of individually customized products at near mass production cost. A number of specific capabilities, including solution space development, robust process design and choice navigation are important to realizing mass customization.
The mission of the research is to make novel research contributions within the mass customization area as well as supporting industry in achieving mass customization. For several years the research group has conducted research supporting this mission by working on topics such as: product configuration processes in different environments, including engineer to order, product configuration tools and development of these, information modelling, product family modelling, product development supporting mass customization, product architecture, manufacturing of configured products, information management, business process reengineering, business models and enterprise systems. Recently, the research group has increased its focus on assessment tools for mass customization. The group is a partner in several national and international research projects and regularly disseminates research knowledge to Danish industry.
An important enabler behind this development is information technology. The ability to create more advanced support systems for product data management and product life cycle management provides the means for creating lean and agile sales and manufacturing systems. Information modeling is essential for creating an integral view on technical and administrative data, necessary for performing efficient and effective processes. By implementation of the basic principles behind product configuration in advanced supporting IT systems, it is possible to reach new markets, especially in a world-wide perspective. Therefore, web based technologies have made it possible for many enterprises to take advantage of globalization by opening up the whole world as their market place.
Product Configuration is the process of defining a specific product variant from a predefined variety. The set of possible individual configurations is termed the product family and, in order to support a configuration process, some kind of overview or model of the product family is significantly important. Hence, much research is focused on developing and utilisation of product family models.
Great research potentials are related to detailed product family models because they can automate many expensive traditional operations. Not only in the sales process but also in the manufacturing processes, a large amount of resources can be saved by generation of planning and control data directly based on the product family model when specific end products have been defined and specified.
New research is also needed regarding the possibilities for user-driven and user-performed configuration of products, i.e. in mechatronic and electronic products with embedded computers and software.
The mission in the research area is to make novel contributions comparable with other similar research worldwide. It is the immediate goal that the research activities are performed on a high international level and result in a leading status on the national level. This relates first of all to quality of the achieved research outcome but it also relates to publications, collaboration with members of other international research areas and external funding.
The ultimate vision regarding the usability of the research is that
• Customers can specify individually configured products by use of advanced product configurators support tools
• Customers can get substantial amount of information about configured products during configuration process and before purchase decisions must be made
• Individually configured products can be manufactured automatically on the basis of models generated as result of configuration
This vision implies that product family models are essential in all aspects but it also requires that the components of the product family are well prepared for configuration and the manufacturing set-up comply with the customer requirements.
The product architecture of a product portfolio will determine the relationship between the customer variety and the internal variety in a company. This relationship is critical to the success of a product family, since it will determine the relationship between value for the customer which determines the potential sales price as well as it determines the costs associated with developing and producing the products. A well designed product family may have a vast customer variety while the internal variety is quite low, whereas a poorly designed product family may have a much higher internal variety relative to the customer variety. In general a good product architecture will produce the optimum customer variety at a minimum internal variety. This research group has conducted research within product architecture related to mass customization in terms of classifying product architectures in relation to mass customization as well as quantitative methods for analysing product portfolios.
Mass Customization and Sustainability
Mass customizers are like other companies currently experiencing an increasing customer demand for environmentally sustainable products as well as an increasingly strict legislation regarding environmental sustainability. Several factors could indicate that mass customized products are less sustainable than standardized products; however other factors suggest the opposite. There is not an unambiguous causal relationship between mass customization and sustainability; however several factors unique to mass customized products are essential to consider during product and process development to create sustainable products. This research group has conducted research within this area and published results pointing out challenges as well as potential solutions to the sustainability issues related to mass customization.
Research and Competences
Product Configuration includes a range of issues, which can be integrated with the following identified basic research disciplines:
Strategic aspects: Mass customization, customization levels, market trends, globalization, sustainability, technologies, business re-engineering, B2B, B2C, etc.
Product types: Mechanical products, mechatronic products and electronic products, re-configurable manufacturing systems, buildings and building products, virtual products, software, etc.
Product technologies and architecture: Design/re-design for customization, modularization, platforms, configuration, re-configuration, functionalities and performance, mechatronics, etc.
Business processes: The complete value chain, engineering, cost estimation, tendering, order management, inventory, manufacturing, postponement, change management, etc.
Modelling: Product families, methodologies, information models, development approaches, etc.
IT support tools: Product family modeling tools, product configurators, system architectures, functionalities, user interfaces, data models, etc.
Knowledge handling: Knowledge acquisition, knowledge representation, rules versus constraints, inference engines, product life cycle information
Projects regarding product configuration can be focused on rather isolated disciplines but they will typically be formed as balanced mixtures of these issues across the domains. An example of more basic research is the results about customization levels, where a conceptual model with four customization levels is created. The newly finished PhD project is an example of basic research about information modeling combined with special business requirements like globalization, standardization and modularization can lead to a new approach for order management.
The issues presented above can also be applied to various application areas. Examples of application areas which are currently being addressed in the group include the building industry, engineer to order production of manufacturing equipment, design and manufacturing of mechatronic products. Furthermore the group has identified that the core issues can be utilized to develop and produce more sustainable products, and this application will be made a research topic in near future.
It is the aim to continue to produce international highly ranked research in this research area.