Enhancing Product Personalization in Manufacturing through Infor’s Enterprise Automation Applications

May 02, 2024
Infor | 7 min READ
Since the conception of the assembly line, the manufacturing industry has adopted various strategies to increase consumer choice and differentiate itself in the market. However, production frameworks have remained essentially rigid until recently. As a result, personalized products and services were limited to upmarket brands that charged significant premiums to offset the cost of personalization.
Ravindra Kabbur
Ravindra Kabbur

Sr Solution Architect



This equilibrium is readjusting rapidly now. More and more consumers demand personalized products (over 50% in some segments), and they require more than cosmetic customization in their products. Considering that 20% of customers are willing to pay more for personalized products, mass personalization presents a lucrative growth opportunity in today’s manufacturing industry.
But the keyword here is mass. To turn personalization into a lever for increased revenues, manufacturers should be able to execute personalization at scale while keeping the costs at mass production levels. Although such an idea would have been impossible to realize a few years ago, this vision is now attainable with innovations in automation technology. This article shows how different automation techniques are applied to drive mass personalization in today's manufacturing industry.
Automation in mass personalization: Not a new idea, exactly
Automation technology first made its way into the shop floor in the 1930s. The Japanese manufacturing industry led this revolution, and the automotive industry was one of the pioneers and early adopters of innovations.
Shop floor automation drives mass personalization.
Since then, shop floor automation has come a long way. Manufacturers now deploy programmable automation via programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and Computer Numerical Controllers (CNCs) to handle custom designs in batch processes. Moreover, automated 3D printing is the key technology in additive manufacturing, a strategy that enables the development of custom products without relying on traditional techniques like molding or rigid batch processes.
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In addition, enterprise automation applications employ robotics to execute intricate assembly tasks with precision and speed. These robots are now equipped with vision systems and AI algorithms and work collaboratively to handle diverse product configurations. They swiftly reconfigure assembly lines and adapt to varying product specifications, thus enhancing the flexibility and scalability of manufacturing operations.
In other words, the technology to build personalized products at scale is now available. Shop floor automation is now a mature technology that offers a proven pathway to manufacturing personalized products at scale.
Yet, gaps remain in orchestrating mass personalization profitably
Over the last decade, manufacturers have devised various strategies to effectively produce personalized products at scale. For instance, deferring customization to the later stages of production and rolling out modular product designs keeps the cost of personalized products close to comparable mass-produced items.
However, some of these critical gaps make mass personalization at scale challenging for manufacturers:
  • Custom ordering platforms: Mass personalization requires intuitive front ends that enable customers to configure custom products for themselves. These front ends should offer visual feedback on custom designs and be well-integrated with inventory and production data to reflect in-stock items and shipping times accurately.
  • Orchestrating make-to-order: Even if the shop floor is ready to efficiently produce custom items, orchestrating make-to-order processes in mass personalization scenarios can be challenging. This is because it requires marketing, sales, production, and distribution teams to be on the same page regarding each custom order and 100% synchronization of enterprise processes.
  • 3. Keeping the supply chain healthy: Demand planning and procurement can be tricky in volatile market conditions. But mass personalization adds another layer of uncertainty, as customers choose across a greater spectrum of options. Adding third-party suppliers and manufacturers into the equation and running the supply chain optimally becomes all the more difficult.
  • Ensuring on-time delivery: Customers don't expect 2-day deliveries for personalized products, but they expect visibility into shipment status and the ETA. This calls for well-integrated processes across the order-to-delivery process, which can be challenging to implement in mass personalization.
Enterprise Automation: The answer to orchestrating mass personalization
Shop floor automation is only a tiny piece of the mass personalization puzzle – albeit an essential one. But delivering mass customization while delighting customers is another ball game altogether – and one that cannot be played without enterprise automation.
Key tenets for profitable mass personalization
Here are a few critical elements of successful mass personalization orchestration in manufacturing:
  • A real-time information loop: Every order-to-delivery process should run on real-time data. This calls for automated cross-system data upload and seamless integrations.
  • Automated dynamic pricing: The cost of personalized products varies significantly. To maintain profit margins, manufacturers must employ pricing automation using intelligent algorithms.
  • Tight SCM-ERP integration: Custom orders must be effectively translated into production and sourcing requirements, which requires automation of swivel-chair data entry tasks.
  • Automated procurement: To ensure personalized products don't take too long to produce and deliver, manufacturers cannot rely on rigid automation algorithms to drive procurement. AI-based procurement automation is, therefore, essential to maintaining reasonable delivery times.
Enterprise automation for mass personalization: Prioritize these strategic business areas
Tightly integrate e-commerce systems with backend systems
Ensure that product configurations ordered by the customers are automatically translated into actions that must be taken at the inventory and production levels. This requires a backend-as-a-service solution that offers API management capabilities.
Integrate Dynamic Manufacturing Execution Systems with the ERP and IIoT fabric
Modern MES platforms are capable of orchestrating production activities in real-time. Enterprise automation enables them to adapt manufacturing processes on-the-fly, which is key to accommodating personalized orders without compromising production efficiency. By integrating with the ERP and Industrial IoT fabric, dynamic MES systems ensure the accurate output of personalized products throughout the manufacturing lifecycle.
Build end-to-end visibility into order-to-cash process
Tracking the cost to serve each item and how long it takes to deliver an item to the consumer will be crucial. Manufacturers can ensure consistent profitability in mass personalization by cataloging the cost to serve. To implement this, businesses need data integration solutions that support flexible messaging standards and offer visual mapping, monitoring, and information retrieval capabilities.
Leverage data to drive personalization and spot opportunities
Enterprise automation integrated with analytics capabilities can help manufacturers analyze customer preferences, market trends, and historical data. This can be leveraged to spot customization opportunities. Moreover, these insights can also be applied to recommend personalizations for individual customers, thus offering a tailored experience for each buyer.
Synchronize product design and development with manufacturing processes
This enables engineers to design customizable products that can be produced by exploiting existing shop floor automation capabilities. Script-based automations are unlikely to work here, as upstream and downstream changes tend to break them, incurring significant script maintenance overheads. An ERP offering with inbuilt PLM features and native automation and integration capabilities will be essential at this step.
Integrate design and engineering processes with enterprise automation
Advanced Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software and automation algorithms enable engineers to rapidly edit product designs based on specifications provided by the customer. Automating the handoffs and design-to-engineering workflows with enterprise automation accelerates iterations, which reduces the time-to-market for personalized products.
Automate production planning and procurement
Personalization can introduce significant complexity into production planning and procurement processes. Automating the process of capturing order queues and translating them into production schedules can abstract much of the complexity of production planning. Similarly, building automation in the ERP can help run procurement processes for custom components on autopilot, with a human in the loop.
Moreover, enterprise automation applications can integrate with a manufacturer’s supply chain partners. Cloud-based collaboration with upstream partners can help accelerate the development of custom parts, thus accelerating the fulfillment of personalized products.
Exploit enterprise automation to improve quality control
Integrating machine vision-based automation across the shop floor can help spot defects in customized items early in the production process. Enterprise automation applications enable manufacturers to spot deviations from the customer's specifications, and AI algorithms drive continuous improvements across quality processes.
Mass customization with Infor Enterprise Automation
More crucial than activating the above use cases is addressing how enterprise automation is implemented in the organization. Legacy automation solutions have resulted in clunky deployments that break more often than they solve. This diminishes their ROI and upsets the profit margins on customized products.
However, enterprise automation applications are effectively driving a paradigm shift in product personalization in the manufacturing industry. Manufacturers can now efficiently deliver personalized products at scale by streamlining design processes, integrating supply chain partners, exploiting dynamic MES orchestration, enhancing quality control, and harnessing data-driven insights.
Infor Enterprise Automation offers end-to-end capabilities for building intelligent automation. Most important in the context of mass customization is its integration Platform-as-a-Service (iPaaS). iPaaS turns swivel-chair data entry automation, cross-system data integrations, and third-party integrations into a drag-and-drop affair. As data is the most essential aspect of meaningful automation, iPaaS makes cross-system context available natively. In conjunction with Infor AI and Infor RPA, iPaaS brings enterprise hyper-automation within an arm's reach for manufacturers.
As the demand for mass customization surges, enterprise automation will be crucial to orchestrate personalization at the cost of mass production. With the Infor Enterprise Automation platform, this vision is now attainable for manufacturers.
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