Flexible Production Paradigm

Batch Size One: Mass production and individualization become best friends

Changes in consumer demands, the economics of production as well as the availability of new production tools cause a fundamental shift in the way companies produce. Due to greater global connectivity and reach, the time to scale-up a new business shortens drastically. Production, including that of chemicals, is shifting from a predominantly scale-driven operation to a more flexible kind of industrialized craft activity.

More and more, customers are demanding products that are personalized and customized to fit their individual needs, also in B2B. Producers will have to manage higher levels of complexity due to more product variations. As buyers shift away from main stream products and markets, niche markets emerge. The accelerating technological change meanwhile leads to shorter product life cycles. Product versions often become obsolete as they are replaced by the next or updated version. Flexibility and faster time-to-market become imperatives under these circumstances.

New tools like additive manufacturing play a key role in the transition. In combination with the industrial internet of things, they make it possible to cost-effectively produce smaller and smaller batches potentially up to a batch size one. Overall, the production landscape will be characterized by a larger variety of concepts, such as time-variant, local, and modular production.


Sports-shoe firm Adidas tests a small manufacturing facility staffed by robots (called Speedfactory). The idea is to bring production closer to where the consumers are, to be able to adapt to demand changes while cutting logistic efforts.