Mass customization has always been the dream achievement of an industry that grew on mass production of promotional and decorative items. Indeed, once customized, the value of products in the eyes of the single customer increases substantially. But, the trade off in production efficiency has long been too expensive. However, times they are a-changing.
Consider how we consume items, such as news. We want it immediately, customized to our taste and preferences, even predictive. The way we experience music is no longer confined to sequential listening on radio stations or record/tape devices. Instead, downloadable files, single-song purchase selections and ever smaller storage devices have made music enjoyment more selective, exclusive, portable and, in one word, personal.
The printing world has not escaped this trend toward personalization. Sure, everyone still wants a shirt with their vacation destination, a mug which expresses love for the city they just visited, a photo reproduction of a quieting sunset or a museum piece they just admired. But, aside from this mass-production market, a new industry is growing ever larger, spurred on by customer demand to individualize the experience.The Shifting Point
The mug, the shirt, the award, the photo-plate now has a name that is familiar (mine, my kids, my dog). It refers to an event that is uniquely personal (my wedding, my son’s graduation, my birthday celebration, my wife’s name on a Valentine’s gift). And, it was individually picked, or even designed, and then ordered by yourself or a close friend or relative with a specific intention in mind.The Value of What We Value
Because of the unique link between the buyer, the event and the recipient, the perceived value of the gift has now increased enormously. It was only a matter of time before the industry found a way to respond to these preferences. The reason was obvious. What stands out and is customized moves the demand curve, resulting in a higher price. But, customization also brings along unique challenges and trade-offs. Here are a few:
- Higher demand on efficiency and workflow organization: The need to separately track each individual order from the time it is placed (online, by phone, in person), throughout the entire production and quality-control process, until the time it is packaged, addressed and delivered becomes a new issue. Advanced barcoding and computerization of the entire process is required. Integration of the sales, production, accounting and customer service activities of the company is needed for effectiveness.
- Higher demand on expertise and employee professionalism: Managers, operators and staff have to be more versatile, aware and knowledgeable about the tracking system and its effects on other departments. Art departments, specifically, who are now reviewing an increased number of designs and requests, need to be more creative and quick to respond in order to avoid slowing the process to a crawl. Acquisition of new skills or upgrading the existing skills of the workforce is no longer a luxury, but a necessity, thereby increasing the value (and the cost) of labor.
- In-sourcing more of the production process: With the increased potential for a higher margin, locating the entire production process in house also simplifies the mass-customization process, since all activities can be designed, monitored, controlled and corrected more quickly and easily. However, there is an increased requirement for more supervision over quality control.
- Year-round demand: The workforce and manufacturing process must adapt to a year-round demand, instead of the usual seasonality of production. However, the experience is that most customized production still accumulates around peak seasons between Thanksgiving and New-Year and, to a lesser degree, springtime events of Valentine’s to Mother’s Day.
- Mass-customization creates a higher demand on the reliability, versatility, potential and flexibility of all equipment used throughout the production process: Obviously, this involves the network and software used for tracking the product. In addition, and to an even greater extent, it shines a spotlight on the processing equipment. Products can only be as good as the tools that were used in its creation.
There is More
Equipment needs to be much more reliable. Equipment breakdown in a peak season now carries a much greater potential cost and bottleneck. Companies can improve break-down response rates by updating their spare parts inventory or improve the skills of their maintenance crew. Equipment manufactured in the US, by a manufacturer who can provide real-time and immediate assistance, becomes even more valuable.
The real goal, however, is to avoid down time, all together. The original quality of the equipment purchased now becomes much more important. Extra quality that, in the past, may have been perceived as a luxury, now becomes more critical.
Equipment versatility now also carries a much greater value. A mug sublimation oven that can handle all heights and shapes of drinkware and cools that drinkware prior to packing; a large-format heat press that can handle ganged-up orders for multiple customers as easily as one large item, perfectly, and with negligible reject rates, now becomes a key to success and profits.
The equipment manufacturing company that understands this will be uniquely placed to take advantage of this growing demand for quality, reliability, versatility and accessibility.
A close cooperation between the equipment manufacturer and the fulfillment company is key to producing and providing the tools the industry needs to provide the ever-growing need for mass customization, customer satisfaction and market relevance.
HIX Commitment to Quality
At HIX, all these elements are taken into account when designing equipment.
- As much as possible is manufactured on US soil and under our roof. The very design team that created the product, the production team that produced it and the sales and marketing team that sold it, all stand ready to assist the customer
- Equipment is designed with quality built in from conception. Tolerances are set and improved upon. Versatility is by design. Testing of prototypes in actual production environments is a requirement to proceed.
- Equipment is not just sold; it is re-visited at location, tracked, learned from through maintenance logs, improved upon and upgraded.
In this high-reliance environment of mass-customization, at HIX, little is left to chance. Interested in the SubliPro Conveyor Oven? Talk to an expert.