Disruption is the universal buzzword of the zeitgeist, and is arguably becoming something of a cliché. Nowhere is this more true than in Industry 4.0, where manufacturing is moving away from its accepted convention, and evolving into a fast-paced, reactive and dynamic industry.
However, manufacturing is no longer merely a means to a retailing end; rather it is becoming the enabler of smart retail. The outlook ahead for the retail industry is moving from being fed by mass production to a far more personalized viewpoint. We can expect to see a retail world propelled by customization, by manufacturing on demand, by the ability to predict what needs to be manufactured, and by the manufacture of small batches rather than in bulk – a literal revolution in mass production.
Think About It
We’re talking about changing the way we currently perceive materials and products – by adapting our mindset to a similar way to how we perceive software.
Think about it. With anything powered largely by software, such as mobile phones, tablets, laptops, computers and so on, there are regular OTA updates. Your phone updates itself for an inconvenient 90 minutes every nine-months-to-a-year and, as a result, the latest features and apps are added, enhanced or discarded according to usage stats, digital feedback and customer communication. It’s become so normalized that it doesn’t even register; rather we expect it, and we also forget how much our own usage contributes to the prolonged life or sudden death of a feature or app. However, it bears reflection. Why is this so natural to us only with regard to software?
Taking Retail to the Next Level
Taking retail to the next level is likely to result in a new form of smart manufacturing – where manufacturers go beyond understanding what products and/or items you want, to where they tailor-make customized items for you from scratch. To do this would require a feedback loop like the one that currently exists in the world of software-powered items, where the physical product would send usage feedback to the beginning of the production line, that would affect the next manufactured batch. It’s not quite as far-fetched as it might sound. We’re all accustomed to product standardization, where there are broad-based sizing models and we simply find the one that best suits us. Yet, why should there not be more personalization? Is it really so implausible to be able to order something – for example, a pair of shoes – that would be made immediately following my order, to my exact specifications and measurements? A return to the world of the cobbler, if you like, but digitized, personalized, and to the benefit of consumers on every level.
What Do We Need, and How Do We Do It?
While these processes have variously already begun, it’s also fair to say that we’re still quite far from making personalization a full manufacturing reality. Many things would need to be implemented within the manufacturing industry, such as sensors within items, for example, in order to gauge individual movement or specific body capabilities, which would then record and transmit the information back to the production line.
One way in which manufacturing could become more personalized would be to capitalize on data gathered from social networks and media into the manufacturing processes, in order to integrate user experience and opinions into the product ideation stage. This information will be able to help manufacturers understand not only what is trending but also what is likely to trend. How usage affects the product is the other side of the coin. Usage reports should shape the way in which the future version(s) of a product is produced. Take a chair, for example. The usage information might include how the chair could be made more ergonomic, more comfortable, less soft, have better-shaped armrests and so on.
A good example will be a new patented technology by Amazon’s fashion retail market. The whole retail experience is in the process of change, as such patents aspire to make it feasible to manufacture according to actual, rather than predicted, demand. This disruption enables the reduction of storage capacity, and reduces shipment expenses, by moving production facilities to localized destinations. While this seems incredible and obviously disruptive to retail, it will never be able to succeed without the disruption of manufacturing.
View Across the Landscape
So what is the future landscape? Firstly, the future is not likely to be exactly tomorrow, but it may well be only a few years away. And as for the landscape, hopefully there will exist a situation where, rather than having focus groups pontificating in their ivory towers, discussing what they think people want, products will be manufactured according to what people actually want. The enabling companies – the ones needed to prepare manufacturing players for these changes – are already here. Want to see who they are? Cast your glance over here for some choice instances.