Delight customers and raise margins using mass customization

Discover how mass customization finds a middle ground between mass production and custom manufacturing, giving customers a personalized experience while keeping margins and production speed relatively high.

mass customization 3D printing
Additive manufacturing with 3D printers requires no retooling, making it ideal for mass customization.

What is mass customization?

Mass customization is a manufacturing approach that allows customers to personalize products while the business retains some of the speed and low costs of mass production. This approach uses advanced manufacturing technologies to customize products efficiently—and also has the undeniable marketing benefit of making customers happy and strengthening their brand loyalty.

mass customization CNC machining
Subtractive manufacturing with CNC machines complements mass customization well, as it works with rapid tooling and CAD software.

Mass customization workflows

Mass customization affects every stage of the product lifecycle. It begins before design, at the brainstorming stage, where businesses can decide how to customize a product. Next, in the 3D modeling stage, designers can create custom-fit models based on 3D scans or customizable designs in CAD; using Autodesk Fusion’s configuration features, designers can include many configuration options within a single CAD file.

In the next manufacturing stage, mass customization products are often made with methods that require no tooling (like 3D printers), CNC machines, and other approaches that can accommodate rapid tooling. Autodesk Fusion is the rare mass-customization software that combines both CAD and CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) abilities. It also integrates with many 3D printers and CNC machines, so you can go from designing to making your product easily.

If the final product combines the customized parts with a standardized sub-assembly, there could be an additional assembly stage. Here, businesses can stay efficient and cost-effective by using off-the-shelf components and automation to make the standard portions of the product.

Mass customization even affects post-production stages like sales and distribution. To put control over mass customization into people’s hands, many sellers use online or app-based product configurators, which let customers choose varying functionalities or design elements for their purchase. Finally, direct-to-consumer distribution sends out the personalized product to the buyer.

Lightning Motorcycles
This Lightning Motorcycle features a customized generative design part. Image courtesy of Lightning Motorcycles.

Technologies for mass customization

To be economically practical, the mass customization process must take advantage of emerging technological innovations to design, manufacture, and assemble products and collect data at every stage throughout the process. Mass customization manufacturers prefer machines that fabricate without extra tooling or use low-cost rapid tooling.

Like most modern product design, mass customization starts with CAD modeling. In addition to the flexibility and speed of standard 3D modeling, certain CAD software has specific tools for mass customization. These may include industry-specific tools for making custom implants or prosthetics for the medical sector or for making customized jewelry. Autodesk Fusion’s configuration features make it a mass-customization software where designers can quickly create multiple versions of a product from a single CAD file.

CAD modeling for mass customization also gets a hand from 3D scanning technology. Using dedicated 3D scanners or smartphone cameras equipped with LiDAR or photogrammetry apps, 3D scanning analyzes physical objects and turns their dimensions into 3D models that can be edited for manufacturing. For mass customization, 3D scanning can scan people’s bodies for custom-fit clothes or wearable devices, faces for custom-fit glasses, and even ear canals or teeth for custom-fit earphones, dental retainers, and more.

Fabrication for mass customization often uses 3D printing (additive manufacturing, where the printers build objects layer by layer from a 3D CAD model. Because 3D printing requires no tooling, changing the CAD file is all it takes to make design tweaks or switch to an entirely different product. With 3D printing, complex and organic shapes can be created that would be otherwise be difficult or impossible to achieve by other means.

However, when mass customization calls for using other machines, it benefits from rapid tooling, the practice of creating low-cost tooling quickly for CNC machines, or traditional manufacturing methods like injection molding. Rapid tooling often takes advantage of novel or limited-run parts that would be too expensive to make with standard tooling, and the tools are often produced with 3D printing.

The rapid iterations of generative design also play a part in mass customization because the process can output thousands of design options that adhere to specific input parameters in minutes. Generative design uses algorithms—sometimes incorporating  artificial intelligence (AI) —and high-powered computation to run simulations and churn out optimal design options that designers can choose from and refine. These geometrically unique designs are often best produced using additive manufacturing with 3D printers, subtractive manufacturing using CNC machines, or some combination thereof.

With mass customization jobs, many more distinct parts are involved; sometimes, there are one or more unique parts on every product made. That makes job- and part-tracking much more difficult. However, automation and robotics work together and connect everything through the sensor data of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to centralize information on cloud data platforms for smoother operation. Robotics are also becoming more accessible to program and safer to interact with through technology like computer vision, all of which benefit the highly flexible production needed for mass customization.

mass customization - product configurator app
Product configurator apps put customization in the hands of the buyer.

Types of mass customization

In his 1992 book, Mass Customization: The New Frontier in Business Competition, B. Joseph Pine II outlines what was then a novel concept in manufacturing, where product developers combine the economies of scale from low-cost mass production with the tailor-made spirit of the pre-industrial craft system. There are four major approaches to mass customization: collaborative, adaptive, transparent, and cosmetic.

With collaborative customization, the manufacturer co-creates the product with the customer, who controls the design’s customization. A good example is the Nike by You online platform, where customers use a product configurator to modify shoe designs that are produced and shipped to them.

Adaptive customization describes products produced in a standard way but have customizable uses once they are in the customer’s hands. For instance, smart home devices are everyday products. Once installed, the user can set them up and combine them with other devices to perform a highly customizable set of automated tasks.

Transparent customization happens without the customer necessarily knowing about it. Typically, it’s based on customer preferences, behavior, and other data. For example, digital products and services often use machine-learning algorithms to customize social media feeds, media recommendations, or ads served based on a person’s user data. Transparent customization can even apply to physical products, like when L’Oreal took customer behavior and preference data from its app and used it to tailor skin-care products, packaging, and quantities to customers’ needs.

The product doesn’t change for cosmetic customization, but the packaging or the way it’s presented changes to appeal to different individuals or groups of customers. Coca-Cola famously exercised cosmetic customization on its Share a Coke campaign, which replaced the brand’s iconic logo with hundreds of regionally common names distributed to more than 80 countries. 

Benefits of mass customization

Across industries, mass customization tangibly benefits every stage of the product development lifecycle.

Save time

With mass customization in Autodesk Fusion, designers and engineers can create multiple product variants in a single software model without multiplying design and manufacturing complexity. Without the need to painstakingly create and update design files for every configuration, product development and time-to-market accelerates quickly.


Reduce cost

Along with saving time, eliminating the need to create and switch between different CAD and CAM files for product variations also saves costs associated with tasks like design management, manufacturing setup, and re-tooling.


Design flexibility

The right mass customization software gives designers extraordinary flexibility to explore and experiment with many different features, materials, surfaces, and so on through setting up rule-based design automation and multiple product configurations within a single model.


Streamline manufacturing

Autodesk’s mass customization software lets designers run simulations and testing on all the product variants before moving to prototyping and production. Then, when it’s time to make, they can update CAM setups for every variant with a single click.


Autodesk software for mass customization

Cloud-based 3D CAD / CAM / CAE / PCB software for product design.

Professional-grade product design and engineering tools for 3D mechanical design, simulation, visualization, and documentation.

2D and 3D CAD tools, with enhanced insights, AI-automations, and collaboration features. Subscription includes AutoCAD on desktop, web, mobile, and seven specialized toolsets.

Mass customization in practice

mass customization - Tousek story


Customizing products for local standards

Though based in Austria, this automatic gate company complies with differing regulations and standards across over 60 national borders. It uses Autodesk Fusion to customize designs while merging electronics with mechanics. 



mass customization - Pembree story


Striving for cycling sustainability

PEMBREE makes carbon-neutral and 99.9% recyclable bicycle pedals. But bicycles rarely follow sizing standards: To make many different-sized pedals for many bikes, the company saves time using the mass customization features of Autodesk Fusion, where making a single adjustment can apply to many design variations.


mass customization - Unik Metal story


Adapting to interior complexity

This fabrication studio for architectural and interior design projects uses configurations in Autodesk Fusion to adapt staircases, guardrails, glass walls, and other components to any dimensional differences within a space without creating and editing separate design files.


mass customization - BBI Autosport story


Custom parts for extreme performance

BBi Autosport helped modify a Porsche into the Hoonipigasus to race the notorious Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. The shop designed, customized, and built many parts for this job using Autodesk Fusion's integrated CAD/CAM design and make abilities.


Mass customization resources

Learn the interface and get instructions for creating design variations using a single parametric model in Autodesk Fusion’s configurations with this help file and tutorial video.


Configurations in Autodesk Fusion lets users create and manage many design variations from a single unified model, and streamline manufacturing workflows by quickly shifting materials, production runs, and more. Learn all about configurations and how it can save time and cost here.


Peruse the many possibilities for creating design variations and accelerating time to market with configurations in Autodesk Fusion and learn how to access them in this helpful overview.


Learn how to use iLogic forms to automate the configuration of assemblies in Autodesk Inventor.


In this video tutorial (4:37 min.), learn how to automate design processes and configure your products in Inventor’s iLogic.


Download this white paper to learn about the Housing Agency System proposal, which uses BIM in architectural parametric modeling software to customize housing to individual resident needs and local climate conditions.


Frequently asked questions (FAQ) on mass customization

What is an example of mass customization?

An example of mass customization is the Hasbro Selfie Series, a product campaign that personalized action figures with customers’ likenesses. Users scanned their faces into Hasbro’s app and then picked a hairstyle and other configurations. The toys were assembled with standardized action-figure bodies to go with the customized, user-based heads.


In another example, Gilette’s Razor Maker campaign offered several razor handle designs and colors on an online product configurator. The custom razor handles were 3D printed and assembled with standard razors for direct-to-consumer shipping.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of mass customization?

The advantages and disadvantages of mass customization are as follows:

  • Mass customization’s advantages include a premium price that covers the cost of integrating customized parts, an increased profit margin if selling directly to customers, and eliminating distribution and retail. Also, mass customization can distinguish brands from competitors and solidify customer loyalty.
  • The disadvantages of mass customization include a lower throughput for customized products at a higher manufacturing cost per unit and unpredictable demand fluctuations that can cause supply chain problems when demand jumps or falls. Also, mass customization is still for special cases and doesn’t benefit basic products.

What is the difference between mass customization and mass personalization?

Traditionally, the difference between mass customization and mass personalization has been whether it tailors a unique product for a person. With mass customization, customers typically use some product configurator to select options such as colors, finishes, materials, and more — all of which do not create unique product geometry for a single person. 


By contrast, mass personalization modifies a product in a completely individualized way. The proliferation of 3D printing has made it possible to deliver unique product geometries to individual people at a larger scale, blurring the lines between mass customization and mass personalization.

What are the characteristics of mass customization?

The characteristics of mass customization are a high level of customization combined with the capacity for high production volume through advanced manufacturing technologies such as 3D scanning, 3D printing, automation, and rapid tooling. Furthermore, the costs per part are relatively affordable, while manufacturing those parts is much faster than custom manufacturing.

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