From Ford Model T to coffee - the move towards mass customisation
Customer choice has increased significantly in the past hundred years. At the turn of the 20th Century Henry Ford launched the infa...
Any colour you want
Customer choice has increased significantly in the past hundred years. At the turn of the 20th Century Henry Ford launched the infamous Model T, the first automobile mass-produced on moving assembly lines. Buyers could famously choose it in any colour they wanted – as long as it was black.
As time went on, customers became used to buying goods in standard specifications, for example clothes in different sizes and colours. As we have turned into the 21st Century, however, we’ve seen features that have allowed consumers to customise products or services with an almost infinite range of components, whether it be when ordering a computer, smartphone or pair of trainers. This paradigm shift has been brought on because the customers themselves have evolved, and the demands have begun to vary significantly from customer to customer, not just region to region.
The new frontier
As such, we are leaving the age of mass production and now entering the era of ‘mass customisation’ within both the manufacturing and service industries. At its core is a tremendous increase in variety and customisation without a corresponding increase in costs. At its limit, it is the mass production of individually customised goods and services. At its best, it provides strategic competitive advantage and economic value.
The need for a move towards a mass customisation form of production has been accelerated by the fact that millennials have grown up with the Internet and are used to its personalised delivery of information and, as such, are demanding a similar experience from personalised products. The trend has already reached the high street, we no longer go into Costa Coffee and order just a coffee, but a primo soya flat white latte with vanilla.
Mass customisation is best described as "the capability to manufacture a relatively high volume of product options for a relatively large market (or collection of niche markets) that demands customisation, without trade-offs in cost, delivery and quality".
In essence, it can be viewed as a collaborative effort between customers and manufacturers, who have different sets of priorities and need to jointly search for solutions that best match customers’ individual specific needs within the realms of a manufacturers’ customisation capabilities.
In today’s landscape, many commercial sectors, whether it be retail, service, technology, or manufacturing have started taking the likes and dislikes of the consumers very seriously.
The need for technology
One of the main barriers for organisations has been the need to offer mass customisation whilst achieving a manageable cost structure and ensuring that each customised product that leaves the production line is of optimum quality. To facilitate this, technology is imperative.
Mass customisation requires flexible computer-aided manufacturing systems to produce custom output. Those systems combine the low unit costs of mass production processes with the flexibility of individual customisation.
Software vs hardware
Software innovations in many products are instrumental in providing its customised look and feel. Whereas the hardware will generally be customisable from a range of pre-engineered options that the customer can chose – such as from a configurator, which is widely used in the automotive industry. The code within the software component will likely have several more variants.
In addition, to achieve mass customisation requires tremendous agility within the entire supply chain, not just at the manufacturing plant itself. This puts a particular pressure on the need for all areas of it to be interconnected and able to talk with each other securely via the Internet of Things (IoT).
Testing times ahead
With a multitude of product variations brought on by a mass customisation manufacturing process, there is a need to have robust software testing in place on all areas of the supply chain to help facilitate this paradigm shift in production. Manufacturers, traditionally built around the physical manufacturing of their products, already have knowledge of how to test them from a hardware perspective. However, mass customisation puts the software component front and centre, and many are not used to having to test the software processes that integrates with the hardware, their supply chain and external data sources.
It is an important step. With the variety that mass customisation brings, comes a variety of potential failure points. The alternative is potentially releasing an untested products onto the market which is, at best, embarrassing, but at worst could be lead to a multitude of regulatory fines and untold damage to the organisation’s brand.
The balance of power
The era of big corporations dictating to consumers what they want is dead. The balance of power has been altered forever. Today, agile forward-thinking businesses have to focus on customers if they wish to stay ahead of the competition. Tastes will continue to change at an untold rate, therefore mass customisation needs to remain core to business planning from this point forward and be underpinned by rigorous, regular quality assurance testing.
Siemens: Providing the First Industrial 5G Router
Across a number of industry sectors, there’s a growing need for both local wireless connectivity and remote access to machines and plants. In both of these cases, communication is, more often than not, over a long distance. Public wireless data networks can be used to enable this connectivity, both nationally and internationally, which makes the new 5G network mainframe an absolutely vital element of remote access and remote servicing solutions as we move into the interconnected age.
Siemens Enables 5G IIoT
The eagerly awaited Scalance MUM856-1, Siemens’ very first industrial 5G router, is officially available to organisations. The device has the ability to connect all local industrial applications to the public 5G, 4G (LTE), and 3G (UMTS) mobile wireless networks ─ allowing companies to embrace the long-awaited Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
The router can be used to remotely monitor and service plants, machines, as well as control elements and other industrial devices via a public 5G network ─ flexibly and with high data rates. Something that has been in incredibly high demand after being teased by the leading network providers for years.
Scalance MUM856-1 at a Glance
- Scalance MUM856-1 connects local industrial applications to public 5G, 4G, and 3G mobile wireless networks
- The router supports future-oriented applications such as remote access via public 5G networks or the connection of mobile devices such as automated guided vehicles in industry
- A robust version in IP65 housing for use outside the control cabinet
- Prototypes of Siemens 5G infrastructure for private networks already in use at several sites
“To ensure the powerful connection of Ethernet-based subnetworks and automation devices, the Scalance MUM856-1 supports Release 15 of the 5G standard. The device offers high bandwidths of up to 1000 Mbps for the downlink and up to 500 Mbps for the uplink – providing high data rates for data-intensive applications such as the remote implementation of firmware updates. Thanks to IPv6 support, the devices can also be implemented in modern communication networks.
Various security functions are included to monitor data traffic and protect against unauthorised access: for example, an integrated firewall and authentication of communication devices and encryption of data transmission via VPN. If there is no available 5G network, the device switches automatically to 4G or 3G networks. The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and autoconfiguration of the devices,” Siemens said.
Preparing for a 5G-oriented Future
Siemens has announced that the new router can also be integrated into private 5G networks. This means that the Scalance MUM856-1 is, essentially, future-proofed when it comes to 5G adaptability; it supports future-oriented applications, including ‘mobile robots in manufacturing, autonomous vehicles in logistics or augmented reality applications for service technicians.’
And, for use on sites where conditions are a little harsher, Siemens has given the router robust IP65 housing ─ it’s “dust tight”, waterproof, and immersion-proofed.
The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. “With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and auto-configuration of the devices,” Siemens added.