What if society’s technological and manufacturing prowess had reached a point where you could get exactly what you needed when you needed it, configured and sized to your requirements to, say, within a single millimetre, at a competitive price?
Sounds too good to be true? That’s because old ways of thinking die hard. I know I’m used to:
- Settling for standard—whatever that is, size, colour, configuration….
- Paying 20% to 30% more for a special order to get what I need, even if what I need is smaller and uses less material. Or even worse, having to buy more than I need.
- Waiting up to twice as long for the product to arrive.
- Settling for a fit and finish that is less than superior.
Sound familiar to you too? No wonder. We’re so used to living in terms of standardized this and that, we’re still compromising our needs and conforming to manufacturers’ limitations.
Ever since Henry Ford cranked Model A’s out of his assembly line, we’ve been wooed into buying “standard.” In fact, so ingrained was that way of thinking that we dispensed with craftsmanship and made mass consumption the norm. Under that model, we were shoe-horned into thinking that these very “standards” that limited us were actually to our benefit.
I hate to be the one to break the news, but they’re not. Mass standardization was developed to benefit what’s now an antiquated industrial model.
The irony is that manufacturers have been really good at selling us these limitations as “standard,” as if standard was a plus for the consumer.
Consider these examples:
Manufacturer A’s solution is a product based on a series of limited, standardized interchangeable variables. The same goes for Manufacturers B and C. They’re trying to offer a solution, all the while making it impossible for the consumer to make an apples-for-apples comparison of the solutions on offer.
And what do we do once we realize that what we probably want or need is a hybrid, some combination of all three products? Well, after we acknowledge the fact that the ideal doesn’t exist and we can’t have the solution we truly desire, we end up choosing a product based on tertiary criteria such as price, delivery, colour, the salesperson, etc. In other words, we bend to the will of the manufacturer.
A single manufacturer offers a reconfigurable, multi-use, re-usable solution: 10,000 SKU’s of standard-sized unitized components from which you can pick and choose to create your own customized solutions. Wow, sounds good, right? But wait. All that choice creates new problems.
When it comes to the promise of reconfiguring and reusing your customized solution, how will you manage up to 10,000 parts?
What are you going to do with all the parts and pieces you don’t use up in a reconfiguration?
How will you deal with compatibility issues over time, older versus newer generations of product?
Enter the manufacturer, who steps in to solve the problems that their limited standard assembly process has created for you. They might recommend that you adopt a kit-of-parts philosophy whereby you restrict your purchases to a limited selection of their standardized products in standard finishes. Voila! Your reconfiguration and inventory problems are solved.
OR ARE THEY?
You were promised a world of almost infinite choice and solutions. So how did you end up settling for a handful of sizes and configurations in a couple of finishes?
And that’s not all. Over time, as the manufacturer adapts to new materials and realities in the marketplace, their product will evolve; now you have the challenge of managing unitized assemblies of several generations that you have to blend as your organization changes and you reconfigure. Eventually there comes a day of reckoning when the product is no longer even available: it’s become obsolete.
This is a real curiosity. Manufacturers sell their products with non-obsolescence commitments. And we go for them, which means we’re the ones who get stuck with the bad options.
What happens when the mill that makes the product’s fabric stops offering that choice? When the electrical component manufacturer goes out of business? When there’s no longer enough business to justify manufacturing the antiquated product you’ve invested in?
Before we go wrapping ourselves in the cozy blanket of “standards” or dusting off the kit-of-parts manifesto, we should be asking ourselves, who do my choices really serve? Me, or am I bending to the manufacturers’ will, based on prescribed limitations?
The good news is that the change we want is already here. The new paradigm has made most of the constraints of the old model irrelevant. Welcome to the new world of Mass Customization where you can design and have what you need at the same or lower price and get it just as fast, or faster.
With mass customization, all the old issues are no longer “standard”:
- What sizes does it come in becomes What size do you need?
- Paying 20% to 30% more for less becomes inexcusable.
- So does waiting, and waiting…
- Or picking the closest standard size and caulking the rest.
This glorious new paradigm has arrived. Manufacturers like DIRTT (Doing It Right This Time) are utilizing fully integrated software platforms to drive revolutionary manufacturing processes that produce pre-engineered, pre-tested components built to a project’s exact specifications within three weeks.
Many of us are struggling to recognize and adapt to this new paradigm and what it can do for us. Fair enough, but when it’s possible to change and when the change is already here, isn’t it about time we started asking for—and expecting—exactly what we want and need?
WE CAN AND WE SHOULD.
WELCOME TO THE FUTURE.