Vocabulary

Terms and definitions on affordable and sustainable housing *

Mass customisation

Area: Design, planning and building

Mass customisation (MC) is a process by which a company approaches its production in a customer-centric manner, developing products and services according to the needs and requirements of each individual customer, while keeping costs near to mass production (Piller, 2004). MC establishes a new relationship between producers and customers which becomes crucial in product development  (Khalili-Araghi & Kolarevic, 2016). Alvin Toffler (1970, 1980) was the first to refer to the MC concept in his books “Future shock”  and “The third wave”. Stanley Davis (1987) later cemented the term in his book “Future Perfect”. But it was not until 1993, when Joseph Pine  developed its practical application to business, that the concept started gaining greater importance in research and practice (Pine, 1993; Brandão et al., 2017; Piller et al., 2005). Nowadays, MC is understood as a multidimensional process embracing a combination of mass production, user-driven technologies, big data, e-commerce and e-business, digital design, and manufacturing technologies (Brandão et al., 2017). In the last twenty years, almost every sector of the economy, from industrial production to consumer products and services, has been influenced by mass customisation. The difference between mass customisation and massive customisation is the ability to relate the contextual features to the product features. This means that a random generation of design alternatives would not be sufficient; these alternatives should be derived from the cultural, technological, environmental and social context, as well as from the individual context of the user (Kolarevic & Duarte, 2019). As a business paradigm,  MC provides an attractive added value by addressing customer needs while using resources efficiently and avoiding an increase in operational costs (Piller & Tseng, 2009). It seeks to incorporate customer co-design processes into the innovation and strategic planning of the business, approaching economies of integration (Piller et al., 2005). As a result, the profitability of MC is achieved through product variety in volume-related economies (Baranauskas et al., 2020; Duray et al., 2000). The space in which it is possible to meet a variety of needs through a mass customisation offering is finite (Piller, 2004). This solution space represents the variety of different customisation units and encompasses the rules to combine them, limiting the set of possibilities in the search of a balance between productivity and flexibility (Salvador et al., 2009). The designer’s responsibility would be to meet the heterogeneities of the users in an efficient way, by setting a solution space and defining the degrees of freedom for the customer within a manufacturer’s production system (Hippel, 2001). Therefore, an important challenge for a company that aims at becoming a mass customizer is to find the right balance between what is determined by the designer and what is left for the user to decide (Kolarevic & Duarte, 2019). Value creation within a stable solution space is one of the major differences between traditional customisation. While a traditional customizer produces unique products and processes, a mass customizer uses stable processes to provide a high range of variety among their products and services (Pine, 1993). This would enable a mass customizer to achieve “near mass production efficiency” but would also mean that the customisation alternatives are limited to certain product features (Pine, 1995). As opposed to the industrial output of mass production, in which the customer selects from options produced by the industry, MC facilitates cultural production, the personalisation of mass products in accordance with individual beliefs. This means that the customer contributes to defining the processes, components, and features that will be involved in the flow of the design and manufacturing process (Kieran & Timberlake, 2004). Products or services that are co-designed by the customer may provide social benefits, resulting in tailor-made, fitting, and resilient outcomes (Piller et al., 2005). Thanks to parametric design and digital fabrication it is now viable to mass-produce non-standard, custom-made products, from tableware and shoes to furniture and building components. These are often customizable through interactive websites (Kolarevic & Duarte, 2019). The incorporation of MC into the housebuilding industry, through supporting, guiding, and informing the user via interactive interfaces (Madrazo et al., 2010), can contribute to a democratisation of housing design, allowing for an empowering, social, and cultural enrichment of our built environment. Our current housing stock is largely homogeneous, while customer demands are increasingly heterogeneous. Implementing MC in the housing industry could address the diverse consumer needs in an affordable and effective way, by creating stable solution spaces that could make good quality housing accessible to more dwellers. Stability and responsiveness are key in the production of highly customised housing. Stability can be achieved through product modularity, defining and producing a set of components that can be combined in the maximum possible ways, attaining responsiveness to different requests while reducing the complexity of product variation. This creates customisation alternatives within the solution space which require a smooth flow of information and effective collaboration between customers, designers, and manufacturers (Khalili-Araghi & Kolarevic, 2018). ICT technologies can help to effectively materialise this multidimensional and interdisciplinary challenge in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry, as showcased in the Sato PlusHome multifamily block in Finland[1]. Nowadays, there are companies that have integrated a systematic methodology to produce mass customised single-family homes using prefabrication methods, such as Modern Modular[2]. On the other hand, platforms such as BIM that act as collaborative environments for all stakeholders have demonstrated that building performance can be increased and precision improved while reducing construction time. These digital twins offer a basis for fabricated components and enable early cooperation between different disciplines. Parametric tools have the potential to help customisation comply with the manufacturing rules and regulations, and increase the ability to sustainably meet customer requirements, using fewer resources and shorter lead times (Piroozfar et al., 2019). In summary, a mass customisable housing industry could be achieved if the products and services are parametrically defined (i.e., specifying the dimensions, constraints, and relationships between the various components), interactively designed (via a website or an app), digitally fabricated, visualised and evaluated to automatically generate production and assembly data (Kolarevic, 2015). However, for MC to be integrated effectively in the AEC industry, several challenges remain that range from cultural, behavioural and management changes, to technological such as the use of ICTs or those directly applied to the manufacturing process, as for example automating the production and assembly methods, the use of product configurators or managing the variety through the product supply chain (Piroozfar et al., 2019).   [1] Sato PlusHome. ArkOpen / Esko Kahri, Petri Viita and Juhani Väisänen (http://www.open-building.org/conference2011/Project_PlusHome.pdf) [2] The Modern Modular. Resolution: 4 Architecture (https://www.re4a.com/the-modern-modular)

Created on 06-07-2022

Author: C.Martín (ESR14)

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* This vocabulary consists of definitions of key terms related to the combined research conducted by the 15 early-stage researchers. Each term has multiple definitions, each connected to one of the three main research areas: Design, Construction and Planning; Community Involvement; and Policy and Funding.

The joint construction of this vocabulary allows the researchers' projects to be interwoven. As such, the vocabulary is a tool for conducting transdisciplinary research on affordable and sustainable housing.

Entries are reviewed by RE-DWELL researchers and supervisors. The vocabulary is updated regularly.