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Friday, 8 July 2011

Manufacturing Just for You

Technology Review
July 8, 2011

Want to build a device that takes video in 360 degrees? That can communicate with a car's onboard computer, or connect to sensors that can measure your heart rate or blood pressure? It used to be that to build a self-designed gadget, you had to know how to make it entirely from scratch. And if, after testing it, you wanted to sell a few, you had to build each one by hand—large manufacturing companies generally wouldn't pick up the phone to take orders that numbered fewer than hundreds of thousands.

A process called mass customization is changing that, offering a way to use the technology of mass production to manufacture devices in small quantities. Taking off in sectors ranging from electronics to fashion, it lets design-savvy consumers get exactly the products they need. It also offers a heavy assist to small businesses that want to get started without huge capital investments, or to give their customers some input into design.

New York-based Bug Labs, for example, is making electronics easier to customize—something that was hard to do because "the world of electronics is basically dominated by five to 10 giant companies," says its founder, Peter Semmelhack. "The economics that are involved are so onerous, and so daunting that only the largest companies can afford to take the risk of product development," he says. "I don't see it as a sustainable model for innovation."
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