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Making product customization possible with additive manufacturing

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The ability to customize and tailor products to consumers has brought immense value to the market, and with additive manufacturing (AM), the ability to mass customize has been elevated to an entirely new level.

According to McKinsey, sales conversions increase by 22 to 30 percent with an offer of product customization — and consumers are willing to pay a nearly 20 percent higher price.

Utilizing a digital manufacturing process, AM unlocks new customizable possibilities since it does not require expensive tooling changes based on individual specifications.

“Mass customization” is often used in a general sense, but it’s important to understand the difference between customization and personalization.

Personalization is an application intentionally designed for an individual user while customization refers to applications that give individuals the opportunity to tailor their product based on a set of predetermined features.

3 different ways to customize your products with additive manufacturing

When it comes to mass customization, applications likely fall into one of three primary categories:

1. Aesthetic

We can align many aesthetic features like textures, logos or text with an individual’s preference. The ability to create changes in surface finishes or add specific textures without tool changes is unique to additive manufacturing.

“It’s important to understand the difference between customization and personalization.”

Customers that desire a more personal touch can even go so far as to add their own names or personal identification to different applications. This type of manufacturing enables personalization and integrates user input into each individual design.

2. Functional

Functional or physical personalization products designed for an individual user tend to fall into the medical use category — such as orthotics, orthodontics and more. Customized applications like braces or prosthetics, designed to a customer’s specifications, improve the user experience.

Additive manufacturing not only enables new fit and function features tailored specifically to the user, but it has the capability to improve delivery speeds compared to traditional manufacturing methods — production of parts using casting or vacuum forming can take much longer to produce.

3. Tech-enabled

Empowered by additive manufacturing, there are many different ways to make your parts smarter.  Additive has the ability to enable fraud detection and ERP integration, as well as integrate IOT and tracking at the component level.

Additionally, the ability to print unique Datamatrix or QR codes into certain parts can help simplify the supply chain load by printing unique codes containing pertinent tracking information into individual parts.

New digital workflows

With additive manufacturing, the ability to mass customize has never been easier. Because of its digital nature, the workflow necessary to provide consumers with personalized parts is quick and seamless.

Here’s a breakdown of how additive manufacturing facilitates the customization process:

Examples of mass customization with additive manufacturing

From headgear to retainers, there are many applications today utilizing AM customization. Take a look at some innovative applications on the market today:

Athletic helmets

Some of the products benefiting most from additive customization includes sports helmets. Recently, the NFL announced its partnership with Carbon ® and Riddell to produce 3D-printed football helmets, tailor made to perfectly fit the shape of each individual player’s head. By doing so, players receive better protection from head injuries such as concussions.

The cycling industry is also introducing new, custom-fit helmets. HEXR, a company specializing in custom bike helmets, is creating personalized headgear. An additive-enabled honeycomb pattern provides better safety for cyclists.

Customized vehicles

The automotive industry is already full of customizable options for its customers, but with additive technology, companies like BMW are already giving owners the chance to design their own 3D-printed parts for their vehicle.

From side scuttles to door panels, there is a wide array of additive options for every individual taste.

“The ability to create changes in surface finishes or add specific textures without tool changes is unique to additive manufacturing.”

Orthotics, orthodontics and medical devices

The medical device industry is another market that can take advantage of customization through the additive process.

Companies like Wiivv are creating custom fit footwear using 3D printing, and Sonova, with their 3D-printed hearing aids — each personalized to an individuals’ ear canals — take their products to a more personal level. Technologies like HP Multi Jet Fusion make custom orthotics and prosthetics possible — changing lives every day.

Mass customization is taking the industry by storm, as people want products made just for them. With additive manufacturing, mass customization has the capability to be both accurate and reliable, enabling innovations across the global supply chain.

Talk with the Fast Radius team to learn more about customization.

This article first appeared on the Fast Radius website and was republished with permission. UPS is a minority investor in Fast Radius, which operates a 3D printing factory at the UPS Worldport facility in Louisville, Kentucky.

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