6 Types of Mass Customization

by Joseph Flaherty on April 19, 2009

Product customization can mean many things, In software it could be as simple as skinning a WordPress template or be developing a new product from an existing codebase. In the physical world it’s everything from developing a multi SKU product line based on family parts to snapping together Lego bricks. In the book Mass Customization author Joseph Pine offered up a taxonomy of customization/modularity that helps clarify thinking on the subject. It is a helpful tool to think about mass customization, but the book is nearly 20 years old and the examples are a bit outdated. I’ve provided some new examples and descriptions of each kind of customization.

types-of-modularity

Modified from: William J. Abernathy and James M. Utterback, “Patterns of Industrial Innovation,” Technology Review, June/July 1978

1. Component Sharing Modularity

Component swapping modularity enables customization of products by reusing a functional module across a variety of products. It could be a single motor across a line of power tools or, in the case of Bug Labs, reusing the computational module to enable customization of consumer electronics. In most cases the end user can’t customize the product themselves, but the modularity enables cost effective development for niche products. Value is created by reducing complexity in the supply chain which provides time and margins to introduce more products.

buglabs1

2. Component Swapping Modularity

Component swapping modularity adds value to commodity products. The print on demand market is a great example of of this, the base products are blank postcards, books, and coffee mugs, but when photo modules are added by customers significant value is created. Moo has created a service that allows people to design business cards and have unique images on each card. Unlike component sharing modularity the bulk of the value comes from what is placed on the “base”, not the base itself.

moo_customization

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3. Cut-to-Fit Modularity

Cut-to-fit modularity is as simple as it sounds, you have a product that is functional at a wide range of sizes and sell just enough to meet the customers needs. Made to order clothing is the classic example, but the funky soap store Lush sells its esoteric offerings to customers by cutting off chunks of soap from large decorative batches.

lush-customization1

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4. Mix Modularity

Mix Modularity products are comprised of two or more components mixed together to provide additional value. Industrial soaps are the canonical example, but YouBar is a more customer friendly example. YouBar allows you to tailor your ideal energy bar combining various nuts, berries, flakes, and supplements. The individual elements aren’t hard to find or prepare, but the service simplifies the life of the customer.

youbar-js

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5. Bus Modularity

Bus Modularity enables customization by providing an architecture that can contaim a diverse set of components while maintaining control over the final product. In the case of Ridemakerz they developed a magnetic connection system that allows kids to design a custom car by combining chasis, wheels, engines, and other parts while ensuring the finished product still looks like an attractive car.

ridemakerz-rod

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6. Sectional Modularity

Sectional Modularity creates value by enabling the user to create something with a kit of parts then rearrange it if required. Office cubicles are one example of this, but Lego is far more fun and the images are infinitely better.

lego-guy1

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  • http://blog.ponoko.com/2009/04/19/replicators-6-types-of-mass-customization/ Ponoko Blog

    [...] of Joseph PIne’s taxonomy of customization/modularity that the Replicator Blog has entitled 6 Types of Mass Customization. Here are updated examples of the different kinds of mass customization ranging from Bug Labs [...]

  • http://www.StrategicHorizons.com Joe Pine

    Joseph, thank you for updating this work! I very much like your diagrams and new examples / pictures.

    Do note that the original work here is from Professor Karl Ulrich, then at MIT and now at Wharton, and his student Karen Tung. The citation above is the incorrect one from the first edition of the book, caused by an error in the editing process; the correct citation should be: Adapted from Karl Ulrich and Karen Tung, “Fundamantals of Product Modularity,” MIT Sloan School of Management Working Paper # 3335-91-MSA, September, 1991.

    Because they were concerned only with discrete manufacturing and I wanted to be more broad (applying the types to process manufacturers and service providers), I changed the name of “fabricate-to-fit” to “cut-to-fit” and added mix modularity to their original five types. I've also come to realize over the years that bus modularity applies to mass customized experiences — such as the design-your-own roller coaster at DisneyQuest in Orlando, many virtual games, or customized music such as Pandora or one's own iPod — where time itself is the bus.

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    I miss lego. When I was a child I used to play it, building blocks and everything. I highly recommend this kind of game as it is very educational.

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    This will help make mass customization even cheaper!

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    Great post, really help me alot. Thanks.

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    This is a cool lego replica. It's full of expression.

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    Thanks for explaining the modules in a very concise manner. The examples you shared are dead-on too!

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    I've also come to realize over the years that bus modularity applies to mass customized experiences — such as the design-your-own roller coaster at DisneyQuest in Orlando, many virtual games, or customized music such as Pandora or one's own iPod — where time itself is the bus.

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    It is a helpful tool to think about mass customization, but the book is nearly 20 years old and the examples are a bit outdated. I’ve provided some new examples and descriptions of each kind of customization.

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    this is really a good post, I can't agree more with you on this one, also thanks for bringing up a great diagram, it really helps a lot..

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    In most cases the end user can’t customize the product themselves, but the modularity enables cost effective development for niche products. Value is created by reducing complexity in the supply chain which provides time and margins to introduce more products

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