Re: Mass Customization

From: Brock Hinzmann (
Date: Sat Jan 05 2002 - 04:26:17 EET

I should say that I wrote previously about the jewelry market without having any real knowledge of it. I can guess only by looking at the mass of advertising that goes into selling jewelry and the huge displays at department stores and even very expensive boutiques, where the selection looks amazing the same and boring. I have no idea if that is where the true volume is. I am also a very poor judge of quality of stones and settings of standard jewelry.

When I buy jewelry as gifts (I don't wear any myself), I tend to buy relatively inexpensive, but handcrafted items at local stores or stands or museums in the places I visit when I travel. It's not custom, but I like to think it has some uniqueness to it, at least in place and time. Some people feel that way about their cars, too.

When I looked at RP and art a few years ago, I was intrigued by the possibilities. Some of the artists were designing objects to be worn on the body that might be called jewelry or might be called something else altogether. I think it was Kimberly Voigt who called her jewelry Body Landscaping. I imagined that, eventually, as the cost of RP came down and the diversity of materials increased, people could consume large volumes of such fashion accessories on a regular basis, where the RP technology became the manufacturing technology. By having your body geometry on file with the virtual jeweler/accessory provider, you could match colors and shapes in a customized fashion very quickly. Gemstones might become re-usable, as fashions changed.
I was also intrigued by the notion of taking it to another extreme, at least it seemed so at the time, where RP&M could be used to produce fashionable custom body armor. That notion was touched off by a fashion design contest in India, where two of the four top prizes went to people who had included body armor in their designs. It was kind of strange that the drawings depicted models with armored gauntlets on their forearms, but who wore very little else for clothing. Still, it was the idea that was interesting. It should also have been a clue as to their expectations about life in India.

Brock Hinzmann

Steven Pollack wrote:
>I know you are right that custom jewelry makes up a much smaller market >segment than mass production and whether this is because there are so few skilled >craftsmen to satisfy the demands of the general public or if the lower prices of mass >production are the reason more craftsmen do not enter the market to offer >custom, the size of the markets are in fact different.  The custom market may not >be as small as you think though.  Chain stores and other sellers of discount >jewelry account for 50% of the market while small mom and pop stores acount for the other >half.  There are about 35,000 different jewelry businesses in the U.S. so >something accounts for this high level of  fragmentation and I would submit that >alot of it is the ability of small craftsmen to open their own store and offer >custom services.
>But in the case of jewelry, why is custom more expensive than mass >production and does CAD/CAM enabled mass customization alter this equation?  For the >following I ignore all CAD/CAM except Digital Jeweler because this is the >one instance where the cost of the CAD model creation approaches zero at higher >volumes.
>he master model, hand carving a unique wax, is what made up the bulk of the >is whmodel in a matter of a minute and can handle a high volume of model creation gi
>duction does not have.  If the people from 3D Systems are correct and >handle a high volume of model creation given ongoing development costs.  I figure that the >Solidscape printer produces ring sized objects on the order of $50 per unit >based on full capacity and a one year amortization.  This is one cost that mass >production does not have.  If the people from 3D Systems are correct and the >Viper can produce 50 ring sized units in 4 hours then the unit cost drops to about >$12.  Of course I am still having trouble casting the resin material so it is not >yet an option but I think that there will be a breakthrough in the ability to cast >it's output.
>So unit costs, at full capacity, can already drop into a range where the >differential between the mass production injection wax and the RP created model are >approaching relative parity.  The next issue is the cost of finishing.  >Mass production utilizes cheap labor but there is nothing to say that the digital >files produced with Digital Jeweler cannot be forwarded to an overseas production >facility where the RP would be located.  The finishing time on an RP model is >longer than a nice shiny injection wax but with labor at a dollar or two per hour >that is hardly a difference.
>While we are not at a level where RP enabled mass customization can be >priced as cheap as mass production, we are getting really close.
>Brock Hinzmann wrote:
>For those small numbers of people willing to pay the extra for customized >styling, I suspect you could be right. Actually, you wouldn't even need to >standardize the bolt locations, as long as the part interface can be scanned >accurately into the system. The big companies might even welcome design >experimentation and might want to be informed of improvements and >failures (such as materials mismatches that result in parts falling off, >crashes, and so forth) experienced by such lead users. I don't deny the logic >and technical feasibility of what you say. I just think market experience >indicates most people aren't willing to pay extra. Even in jewerly and art, >where you would think uniqueness would be primary and where safety is not >an issue (in most cases), the volume of custom work pales in comparison to >the mass of manufactured stuff.

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