Welcome to the World of 1 to 1

Welcome to the World of 1 to 1

Surely, of all the recent innovations in manufacturing, the most important (and impressive) is the ability to service each and every customer by providing a solution specific to their needs and their problems. From the customised wall canvas, replacing traditional hang-at-home art; to the personalised dining table, designed specifically for the room and decor for which it is destined; to the one-of-a-kind desk lamp with the customer’s family portraiture engraved into the crystal – each item is unique and made in a run of one, but manufactured as a part of an enormous ecosystem which produces hundreds of thousands of unique goods for hundreds of thousands of unique customers. Welcome to the world of 1-to-1.

1-to-1 is a manufacturing philosophy that says, “why make 1000 widgets for one customer and profit once, when I can make 1000 widgets for 1000 customers and profit 1000 times?” – and the technology that underpins it is as far reaching as the products that can be produced. All manner of incumbent industries are feeling the force of produced-on-demand, customised products that are as high quality as their predecessors, but completely unique to the customer purchasing them. The German carpenter who makes a bedside-table to match her customer’s plantation shutters; the Japanese book manufacturer who prints a completely customised coffee-table book of his customer’s wedding; the Brazilian toy manufacturer who sculpts her customer’s son’s face onto his favourite action hero figurine. All are embracing the future and servicing the 1-to-1 customer, with their 1-to-1 need.

In “the old days” all of these business owners would have requested orders of 100 or 500 or 1000 (or more!) for it to be worth their time to build moulds, source inventory and finally produce. Worse yet, they would have required large lead-times, even during off-peak seasons, in order to prep their machinery and prepare for the job. But in the modern world of 1-to-1, production is streamlined and automated and jobs are digitally organised and routed to the correct devices so that only a few minor aesthetics are customised – while the rest of the job is produced in enormous batches. Facilities equipped with 1-to-1 capabilities are producing their goods the same way they always have – but with total control over how jobs are processed and delivered in order to ensure production is as efficient as possible.

In a lot of ways, the 1-to-1 production challenge is much more of a systems one: rigour and control is required to organise jobs into logical groupings in order to maintain as simple a manufacturing task as possible. Why re-train staff when the core fundamentals of their roles haven’t changed? “We are still a company that makes widgets – only now we service the market directly”, is the catchcry of the 1-to-1 ready business.

So, as you read this and contemplate where to take your business on its next journey, consider a world in which your product is designed and built to service your customers’ customers. What shifts in technology will make it possible for you to manufacture and compete in the retail space, not just wholesale. Who knows, perhaps there’s a whole market of customers who are just waiting for you to try?

Sammy Brent

Sammy Brent is the CIO of ZenSmart, a leading workflow automation platform that streamlines manufacturing in On Demand plants across the world.



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