Enabling Mass Customization through Design Automation
Interview with Thomas D’Huyvetter, Product Manager, Twikit
Over the past decade, Twikit has evolved along with the maturation of the additive manufacturing industry, providing brands a platform for producing customizable products for both cosmetic, and functional purposes. Beyond the early hype of consumer facing applications a decade ago,, and into meaningful production of functional products in automotive, medical and performance sports.
This interview with Thomas explores Twikit’s evolution, the nuances of mass customization, and the broader shift towards digital manufacturing across various industries, along with insights into maintaining brand integrity amidst customization, adopting agile manufacturing principles, and transitioning digital manufacturing applications across different industries.
Twikit was established ten years ago in 2013, focusing on mass customization and digital manufacturing, coinciding with the advent of increased public awareness/hype around 3D printing. How has the industry evolved, and how have Twikit’s software and services adapted to these changes over this rollercoaster decade in additive manufacturing?
The industry has taken on digital transformation. The increase in adoptation rate was driven by Covid and the corresponding supply chain disruption. Later on, the war in Ukraine advocated once more the advantages of local and distributed manufacturing. On top of that, business models required more standardization because of decreasing margins.
Additive manufacturing provides an answer to both. To the latter by the fact that “standardized” parts do not have to be identical anymore. And this is exactly where Twikit’s customization platform comes into play. We offer brands the opportunity for a distributed sales and production channel as well as the possibility to offer highly individualized products to their clients.
Mass customization is often implemented as a way for brands to offer their customers a way to engage with the cosmetic design of an object, to give a sense of participation, agency and ownership of ‘their’ product. At the same time, the brand usually needs to maintain their own visual identity, and restrict the possible modifications within a ‘safe’ boundary. With a ‘configurator’ where the customer/co-creator is able to modify ‘parameters’ of the design this is a relatively simple system design decision, but how does a company maintain brand integrity with a more open mass customization system where the user can bring in external data/content?
This can be obtained by monitoring the external data coming into the system during the design process. Brands can then choose between a whitelisting or a blacklisting approach to maintain the brand integrity during the customization process.
Whitelisting is the more restrictive approach where the brand is listing the customization options which are allowed, whereas blacklisting is the more tolerant version where the brand is listing everything which is prohibited.
These filters can be applied on textual inputs, image inputs, as well as on the overall look of the end-product of the customization process.
Much of Twikit’s early work lies in the automotive space, where ‘just in time’ manufacturing has been perfected, which aligns with mass customization principles of leaving the final custom modifications to the very last step of the manufacturing or assembly process. How can other industries that do not have a history or experience with agile manufacturing adopt these same principles of digital manufacturing?
The reason for the JIT approach in automotive has always been because they had to offer design flexibility to their clients. A lot of other industries had less need for that, and thus did not adopt this approach.
With the current shift of end-customer mindset towards fitted, tailored and individualized products, as well as the supply chain disruption, it becomes primordial for the other industries to alter their product offerings as well as manufacturing principles.
Transitioning from consumer-oriented applications, which require a streamlined user experience to prevent overwhelming the user with choices while maintaining engagement, presents a unique UX challenge. How does this scenario differ when targeting professional applications in fields such as medical, dental, and prosthetics?
Actually it’s even more of a UX challenge. This is because you do not need to keep an engagement for a single session, but for the long term. So interfaces should be easy to use, always be able to offer what is required, but for a multitude of scenarios.
Traditionally, you’d end up with overwhelming interfaces which can cater all scenarios but are so complex that nobody uses them. That’s why we at Twikit has invested so much time and effort in grasping the concept of customization for these applications and were able to develop a platform which is capable of offering adequate interfaces for these applications.
What signals suggest that a company is prepared to venture into a mass customization offering, and what knowledge should they possess before reaching out to Twikit?
Companies who are serious on mass customization have prepared themselves on a couple of points before venturing into a mass customization offering.
These are of course areas in which we also gained a lot of experience and can assist our clients as well.
If a company plans to offer customization options for a product, what enhancements are necessary in their consumer-facing interface, how should they adapt their internal system design and manufacturing process to accommodate these changes and variability? Most importantly, how can they foster a cultural shift within the business to secure stakeholder alignment and substantiate the business case for customization?
This depends on the digital maturity of the company.
Since customization is a digital process, the company needs to have a digital sales process in which the interfaces of Twikit can be integrated. They also need a digital manufacturing flow, but this can just as easily be a partnership with a service provider offering the correct manufacturing technology.
Twikit’s back-end system is able to connect with any service provider, as well as MES, ERP, SAP and other industrial manufacturing systems which are in place.
Twikit software is in every component based on an open API structure, so we can integrate with all required systems as long as they have an API.