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Mass Production of Individualized Products

How can mass production methods be applied to individualized products? One answer is to use a combination of digital manufacturing technologies, for example by integrating digital printing and laser processing into traditional manufacturing processes. This paves the way for in-line product customization. Six Fraunhofer institutes have pooled their expertise to take the new process to the next level.

The term mass production generally suggests large numbers of identical products rolling off an assembly line. However, the latest trends call for individualized products. The automotive industry is one example for this trend: Volkswagen, for example, produces only one or two identical Golf models a year. Yet this drive toward individualization is also pushing mass production techniques to their limits. The Fraunhofer Lighthouse Project Go Beyond 4.0 aims to meet this challenge by enabling the mass production of individualized products.

“Right now, individualization in the automotive industry basically means preparing every vehicle for every possible version and then adding the specific features each customer has ordered at the end of the line. This means, for example, that every car has to be fitted with the entire wiring harness,”says project manager Professor Thomas Otto. Professor Reinhard Baumann, who works at Fraunhofer ENAS and is in charge of coordinating the Lighthouse Project, explains the new concept: “By combining traditional manufacturing methods with emerging digital technologies and production processes, we have found a way to integrate product individualization within mass production environments. Our emphasis right from the start has been on product and production reliability – but we still have a long way to go.” 

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