Mass-CustomizationWhen is a commodity not a commodity? When each individual item is made to order. Not just made for the P.O. but to the specifics of the customer's requests. With traditional supply chain practices it's easy enough to get the order right for the specified number of items in the package. But when that package count is 1, there is literally no margin for error.

And when the delivery is made through any of a variety of channels the process of making custom products can explode into seemingly unmanageable permutations. This isn't conjecture. The custom-made model is fast approaching as technology accelerates and provides more options and more automation. 

We're already seeing customization of household items like rugs made to match colors and patterns supplied by the customer. These can be purchased at physical stores that manufacture in the back room, or ordered online and produced either at the store or some remote facility. In some cases orders can be shipped the next day.

The 3-D printer phenomenon is beyond gaining traction, and soon the devices will be as common as inkjet printers. But for now it's possible to create a 3D image on your computer and upload it to a printing service for shipment. For a less extreme customization there are the sweaters manufactured by supplier Applatch that promises to create personalized sweaters made specifically to fit you. This is a 3D garment printer. Watch the video for their explanation.

With this level of customization and direct delivery, imagine the challenges of visibility and delivery not to mention ordering and tracking. My question is - will the demands of the pace of change in custom production outpace the capabilities of the supply chain itself? Adding deep visibility and automated systems is likely to be the only way for retailers and suppliers to not only keep up with, but help guide and enable the consumer driven supply chain that's appearing.

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