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Microproduction—in the short run

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Patti Williams agrees that technology has altered the industrial landscape, but the consulting partner for IT Strategies, a digital printing consulting firm based in Hanover, Mass., eschews the “mass customization” label.

“Over the last couple months, I’ve been using a different term—microproduction—because it encompasses the ability to do short runs,” she says. “Mass customization says everybody can get something different. Yes, it’s that, but that’s not the real value of digital printing. In many cases, it’s doing short runs just in time for a customer. ‘Everyone different’ means that every individual is going to be ordering one of everything, and that would cripple the system. But if you say, ‘I will make for a designer a few hundred yards of a certain design,’ it’s not every one different. It’s a short run.”

Williams prefers the term “vast customization” to describe a situation in which a print shop produces a variety of products based on an environment, such as a print shop creating upholstery, wall coverings and laminates for a hotel lobby. Mass customization and vast customization, she says, are subsets of microproduction.

“Microproduction based on digital printing is the future for print shops,” Williams says. Not only do they need to expand their product lines for consumers, but also to sell to the trade, including interior designers. “If I were selling these kinds of products, maybe I would like to have the Marriott as my customer, with cruise ships, hotels, senior housing, casinos. … It’s going to be the requirement of the digital print community to begin to educate trade customers that this is what you can do, because it’s a long time before the consumer says, ‘I will order digitally printed fabrics for my curtains.’ That’s years away.”

Janice Kleinschmidt is a freelance writer based in Palm Springs, Calif.

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