Is There Any Future for Customisation in Material Handling?

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Customisable products are great for customer approval. There is no doubt that having a product made to your very own specification, individually catered for your needs, can bring great satisfaction. So far, product customisation has been limited to consumer goods. In this article we will be looking at customised goods in the material handling industry.

Current state of Customisation

There is currently a divide between how big material handling projects are delivered vs supply of smaller, more common items. Things like whole warehouses or industrial tents are produced specifically to order. Therefore they are uniquely customised to each customer’s needs. These are both high cost and varying cost projects. The added cost in producing unique designs is lumped in with the high price. On the other hand, more common products such as forklifts, pallet and sack trucks are mass produced. They come in a whole range of different types and models to meet a wide range of needs. The reason for this is simple, a continuous supply engineered to meet a continuous demand. Mass production keeps costs down and minimises production times.

Despite the lack of customisation in these items, the wide range of models they come in mean most customers needs are easily met. For example, when choosing between different pallet trucks, a wide variety and combinations of different weight capacities, wheel types, material types etc. can be chosen. In a way this is like customisation; any combination of factors can be found in a seller’s catalogue. However, this variety of customisation is limited. Although a wide variety of factors are commonly sold, individual cases such as a particularly strong sack truck or a forklift with extra modifications may not be catered for. Additionally, although the main factors are taken care of, other aspects which may be important such as colour, shape etc. are not considered.

Future Avenues of Customisation

Some companies might be able to manufacture these more unique products. However, this would most likely be much more expensive and slow moving from a customer point of view. From a business perspective, this would likely mean that the company can focus only on one product at a time. This makes income unstable and limited. Currently customisation is largely used for consumer products, customisable clothes for example, and are usually done by the big producers. Material handling is a much different market, and so for the moment, customisation is likely to be solely for big capital projects.

However, looking into the future this may all change. Up and coming technologies are making customisation more practical and viable for material handling industries. One such technology is additive manufacturing. Additive manufacturing is the large-scale applications of 3d printing. It involves manufacturing products by adding layer upon layer of materials, allowing the production of products with complex shapes and sizes with ease.

As assistive manufacturing eventually develops into the standard manufacturing procedure nationwide, customisation can become much more viable. Customisation would no longer be seen as having to sacrifice mass production for niche purposes. It would be merely a case of altering software vs altering manufacturing procedures. The future is therefore bright for customisation, not just in the context of material handling, but for all manner of manufactured goods.

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