Mass Production of Today = A Massive Guessing Machine

I began my previous blog by claiming that manufacturing industry will change and that in the future both consumer products and industrial components will no longer be manufactured in centralized mass production facilities but in local, individually centered manufacturing units. I laid the groundworks for this claim in global megatrends and stated that AM manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, seems to meet these megatrends quite nicely. I also let slip that mass production of today is a massive guessing machine. Let’s look deeper into that.   

The process below describes how the clients first state their needs and finally receive what they needed. Typically, the whole process takes months, at worst even years. During the process and because of its multiple intermediate phases, it is easy to forget what the client originally needed. After optimizing each phase, it may also be difficult to make sure that the final product is what the client ordered. Yes, what I am about to say that at its worst, we work for years and waste our resources without knowing if the product is going to sell at all. 

Design Automation and 3D Printing Together May Solve These Problems 

Instead of using this current massive guessing machine it is also possible to change the entire course of the manufacturing industry and make it more reasonable. What if the end users could design the needed product by themselves, with the help of an automated design machine? The alternatives would be infinite, and the customers’ needs could be met instantaneously. With AM manufacturing, the production could take place during the following night with delivery in just two days. Personallytailored products designed by the customers themselves, and delivered within three days to their front doors. Why not?   

This thought process is based on the notion of a design automation that enables persons without the needed design competence to tackle critical choices and to define what they want in the product. Design automation has been a part of our design project already for a longer time. My colleague Harri Kelho discussed the topic deeper already in his blog published in 2018 (available only in Finnish).  

First AM-Based Consumer Services Already Available 

Anyone trying to meet the demands posed by megatrends, as I described in my previous blog, without implementing design automation and AM is just tormenting oneself. Consumers have also got the taste for the first tangible tailored products and services. Some examples of these are hearing aids, eyeglass frames and insoles for shoes. Yes, you can enter a sports store, let them do a 3D-scan of your foot soles and get a pair of 3D-printed insoles specially tailored for you posted to your home address. And while you already are on a shopping trip, you could also collect the customized electric motor assisted mountain bike you designed yourself and ordered just two weeks ago.  

As far as technology goes, all the above is already possible. Nevertheless, to change our design processes and thinking patterns in such a groundbreaking way is going to take some time. New manufacturing technologies (such as 3D printing) and a new way to approach design as a concept are necessary steps towards a more sustainable manufacturing industry that meets the demands posed today. Which product will be the next? 

Text: Jasperi Kuikka