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Finding the Right Fit for Custom Products

David Leigh
By David Leigh Chief Operations Officer, EOS

There is an ever-increasing demand for the individualization of products from today’s consumer. When consumers are able to get exactly what they want (shape, size, color) they are more satisfied and more likely to do repeat business. But how do you scale custom part production?

Mass production used to be our friend, and simply maintaining the correct inventory was key. But to deliver custom products, the business model must adapt to fulfill on-demand production with virtually no in-house inventory. Scaling this kind of mass customization is daunting for even the most agile and efficient organizations, often leaving them to choose between what on the surface appears to be two inadequate manufacturing methods.

Custom production is not a new problem for conventional manufacturing. Low-volume, high-complexity, on-demand production runs have never been a strong suit for processes like injection molding, which are better suited for simpler, high-volume production.

In response to these limitations, many long-time traditional shops are navigating their own path, dropping the “traditional” moniker and embracing advanced manufacturing techniques to handle low-volume, high-complexity runs while still maintaining their long-term conventional production business.

With additive manufacturing (AM), the benefits are vast and can be felt across virtually every segment of an organization, including visualization, prototyping, and initial production. AM has excelled in helping businesses turn their most innovative ideas into market-share-winning products. Leveraging the custom nature of AM truly lends itself to mass-customized printing.

However, innovative production techniques like additive manufacturing can falter when innovation ends with an out-of-the-box solution. Sometimes customized products require a more personalized method of production.

The beauty of an advanced manufacturing method like additive is that, while today’s offerings are certainly innovative, we’re only scratching the surface of what is possible.

Not even a decade ago, 3D printing a violin was considered groundbreaking. Today, 3D-printed rocket engines are entering the high-performance arena and influencing the future of aerospace.
AM technology is pioneering by nature, with plenty of untapped potential to evolve into a better solution for tailor-made applications.

From materials to software to processes—all the way down to the system hardware itself—3D printing can be adapted to better fit the needs of the manufacturer. This is how custom production can thrive.

A perfect example of adapting technology to fit an application is the story of Aetrex and its newly released, 3D-printed custom orthotics.

Already a global leader in comfort footwear and orthotics, Aetrex recently embarked on a journey to push the boundaries of innovation by creating the world’s most accurate custom orthotic.

Partnering with EOS, Aetrex was able to leverage AM production with its innovative Albert 3D Scanner to create the first (and only) 3D-printed custom orthotic that applies comprehensive data from each person’s unique foot. In a word, the orthotics are revolutionary.

But while Aetrex’s goal was clear, the path to production was not. The material was too stiff. The design was too simple. The structural support was too weak. And the cost of production was too high.

With traditional manufacturing, this project had no chance. With an out-of-the-box AM solution, this project had no chance. But with a custom approach, the impossible was developed and mass produced, and it is now being delivered to consumers on demand.

Scaling production of custom products is not easy. But if manufacturing can adapt, a world in which both the consumer and the manufacturer win can begin to take shape.

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