The project strives to develop, evaluate, and pilot a system innovation enhancing the ecological sustainability in the field of consumer electronics (CE), focusing on television sets (TVs). The project will provide guidelines and policy recommendations, tested in two industry pilots (demonstrators), to enhance the eco-sustainability of TVs by shifting its value chain from the current mass production of products with short technology cycles (“gadgetization”) towards a mass customization (MC) of TV sets meeting individual users’ demands. MC has been regarded by the European Commission as one of the main value drivers of a sustainable European economy. Still, in sharp contrast to other consumer industries, manufacturers of consumer electronics and TVs in particular have not yet followed this business paradigm.
Today, the CE industry is a typical example of mass production. This model raises numerous environmental issues throughout the entire product life cycle. A lack of resource efficient designs of the appliances and processes leads to increased use of raw material as well as hazardous materials. A potentially beneficial impact of new technologies is often offset by rebound-effects that result from increased consumer demands and inefficient usage patterns during the products use-phase. Fast developments in peripheral technologies cause decreasing product lifetimes. As a result of the short product life cycles, an increased use of raw material and limited recycling and re-use opportunities are generating larger resource consumption and more waste in the value chain. In addition, off-shore production (mainly in Asian countries) leads to tremendous transportation emissions.
Previous research has suggested a number of environmental benefits along all phases of the product life cycle which may results from shifting from a forecast-based mass production system onto an on-demand, mass customization based business model:
1) Reduction of inventory and waste by unwanted products: MC allows inventories to be considerably reduced or eliminated along the supply chain, as most of the times MC is based on a to-order fulfilment strategy. Manufacturing does not start unless a customer order has been received. Subsequently, overproduction will not occur.
2) Longer product lifespan: MC also provides environmental benefits during the usage phase. Research has shown that customers perceive higher value in products that have been customized to fit their specific demands. In consequence, mass customized products tend to have a longer usage span than mass-produced goods.
3) Adoption of eco-innovations in feature level: Key enablers of MC are configuration systems guiding customers through the elicitation process of selecting a suitable product. Extending configurator capabilities by information about the environmental impact of a selection should increase customer awareness at the “moment of truth”: during the sales process and not during a consumer education campaign.
4) Establishing closed-loop material loops: Customer-manufacturer-relationships in MC are stronger than in a traditional business setting. A strong customer-manufacturer-relationship is necessary for establishing a closed-loop material flow. That way, efficient recycling and re-use of resources can be enabled.
5) Local manufacturing: Mass customization also favours a local production, safeguarding or even creating European jobs and hence providing social sustainability.
Despite these benefits, a wide adoption of MC has not yet taken place in the CE industries – it even is not considered by the established players in the market. The shift towards MC requires a profound system innovation along the entire knowledge and supply chain: 1) Designers have to adapt to a new way of thinking about product architectures. 2) The factory has to be organized differently with robust, but at the same time adaptive processes. 3) Industrial technologies must be highly flexible, reconfigurable and integrated. 4) Logistics have to centre their operations on single customer orders. 5) Customers have to change their habits when making a purchase and when using the product. 6) New kinds of customer interaction systems have to be developed and implemented.
To overcome these barriers, integrated, interdisciplinary research is needed. The project will enable the innovation potential on a system level. It is not singular technological constraints which hinder the adoption of the MC model, but a lack of system integration and assessment. Therefore, the project aims at a full system innovation by remodelling the complete value chain of the TV industry towards a sustainable business model driven by MC.