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Manufacturing Needs to Move Into ‘Virtual World,’ Expert Says

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media

Manufacturing needs to move as much as possible into the “virtual world” if it expects to adopt the idea of mass customization, an industry expert said today.

“Mass customization requires requires us to think very differently than we have in the past,” Michael Grieves, executive director of the Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Innovative Design, said at a presentation during Dassault Systèmes’ Online Manufacturing Summit.

“Engineering can no longer toss” designs “over to manufacturing and hope they can build it,” he said. “It barely works with mass production. It’s not going to work with mass customization.”

Mass customization is building products to order while retaining low costs associated with mass production. The “virtual world” described by Grieves includes digital design and testing to ensure products are made correctly before output begins.

With mass customization, “You have to move as much stuff up to virtual model as we can,” he said. “We need to move into the virtual world…I will contend unless we can do that, mass customization will be way too expensive to implement.”

The idea of mass customization is a challenge to various industries but it’s especially true for the high-volume output of the auto industry.

Demand for autos surged in the early 20th century. Henry Ford, who founded Ford Motor Co. in 1903, popularized mass produced vehicles which overwhelmed hand-built models such as Stutz and Duesenberg. The Model T was hardly built to order.

‘Speed and Flexibility’

In recent decades, automakers have attempted to put as many common parts in their vehicles as possible to reduce manufacturing complexity. Now, automakers are under pressure to differentiate their offerings for individual buyers.

At the end of his presentation, Grieves was asked whether large established automakers or electric-car startup companies in China would have the advantage under mass customization.

“Larger companies have more R&D and more ability to make investments,” he said. “But historically they have been slow to adopt new technologies…Global manufacturers have the opportunity to adopt these sorts of things. It’s really going to depend not only on investment but speed and flexibility.”

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