It wasn’t that long ago that industrial and consumer product manufacturing were on two separate ends of the scale. But in today’s world, choice for consumers has started to drive industrial expectation because at the end of the day, everyone is a consumer – even designers, engineers and specifiers.

By Pete Cross, MD, Corintech.

Consumers today are inundated with choice. Not only with multiple suppliers but also with ‘bespoke as standard’ options that allow you to build a customised smartphone or customise a pair of trainers or even choose from 500,000 different variations of the Fiat 500.

What do designers and specifiers want?

Industrial specifiers, as consumers themselves, want manufacturers that can provide flexible and customised services and that can react instantly to procedural or product changes. This is particularly true in the fast evolving world of electronics so when a manufacturer is able to deliver this – it sets them apart from the rest.

Having nearly 40 years’ experience in the PCB and electronics industry, we’ve seen this evolution first hand. We’ve witnessed the growth of ‘consumer’ demands, ever-changing technology, design complexity and most significantly, the need for rapid response to differing customer requirements.

A personalisation realised in a real-world example

In 2015, we worked with the design collective Miriamandtom to create a major installation in the form of a suspended light sculpture made from interlocking snowflake-shaped, custom-made LED modules. The installation called ‘Winter Wonderland’ was designed specifically for Pacific Place, a 650,000 sq. ft., four-storey shopping mall in Hong Kong.

Although, designers and creative entrepreneurs Miriam Sleeman and Tom Sloan had extensive experience of using LED lighting, the Winter Wonderland project presented some key technical and project critical challenges. The project required the LED strips themselves to form the structure of the feature installation, while also allowing full and individual controllability across all LED strips once connected together.

The production lead-time was incredibly short in order to complete the installation in time for the Christmas period. The designers wanted to deal directly with a UK manufacturer and needed the finished product delivered direct to an assembly team on site at Pacific Place in Hong Kong. The personalisation approach to product manufacture was key in delivering a bespoke product, to high quality standards, with the flexible approach required for the realisation of the installation.

Making a positive change

The Winter Wonderland project had its complexities and demands but the results speak for themselves. Sure, adapting to the ‘bespoke as standard’ mindset will require some big shifts in how the market conducts and also sees itself. But it is happening and we must respond to it to remain competitive.

At the end of the day, the industrial sector is no different to any other. As I mentioned earlier, engineers and designers are consumers too and, as they came to expect personalisation from their consumer products, it was really only a matter of time until their expectations of the systems they use in their jobs began to match.

Whilst this does present a challenge for sub-contract manufacturers, the positive spin is that it also demands that companies like Corintech grow. Grow in manufacturing skill, grow in design expertise, grow in flexible service offering. ‘You can have any colour, as long as it’s a colour’ is a tough call. The industrial sector might have taken a while to come around to that thinking, but we’re getting there.

So moving with the trends, Corintech made a significant investment in a new surface mount facility earlier this year, to ensure we were at the pinnacle of what is technically possible. Continual investment in sub-contract manufacturing isn’t a technical nicety – it’s a necessity. We have to ensure that we are able to work with increasing miniaturisation, that production facilities are able to deal with differing build options on the same line and that downtime is minimised. We have to turnaround prototypes at a faster rate, build volume at a faster rate – and we need the ability to do all that locally as well as globally.

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