Mass Customization for the Wood Products Industry

Resources from a  Specialized Innovation Workshop on Mass Customization
presented by the Regional Wood Products Consortium

Quick Links: Presentations | Additional Resources | Presenter Bios & Contact Information | About Mass Customization

This workshop was one in a series of Specialized Innovation Workshops designed to provide innovation assistance to wood products companies and was attended by leaders of over 50 different wood products companies. Presentations featured top experts from the United States and Canada on mass customization for the wood products industry, as well as, in each site, the CEO of a wood products company from the region that is effectively implementing mass customization.

Presentations (PDF)

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Overview of Mass Customization for the Wood Products Industry
Dr. Urs Buehlmann, Virginia Tech Department of Wood Science & Forest Products, Blacksburg, Virginia (bio); and Dr. Torsten Lihra, FP Innovations, Quebec City, Canada (bio)

This session described the concept and definition of mass customization, the trend towards increased mass customization in the broader economy, the substantial potential competitive benefits from effective implementation of mass customization, different types of mass customization, and the use or lack of use to date of mass customization by different sectors of the wood products industry and its impact on competitiveness.

A Leader's View: Personal Experience with Implementing Mass Customization (3)

In this session, the CEO of a wood products company that is successfully implementing Mass Customization described the company's products, their rationale for moving to mass customization, how their mass customization works, the benefits they are seeing and anticipate in the future, and some of the challenges they have had to address in implementing mass customization.

Mass Customization: How It's Done at Cedarworks
Barrett Brown - President, CedarWorks, Rockport, Maine (bio)

When Custom Isn't Custom
Charles Griffiths - President, Vigilant, Inc., Dover, New Hampshire (bio)

Stories Behind Our Growth
Lisa Weber - Chief Executive Officer, Timeless Frames, Timeless Decor, and Timeless Expressions, - Watertown, New York (bio)

Specific Examples of Mass Customization in the Wood Products Industry
Torsten Lihra (bio) and Urs Buehlmann (bio)

This session described a number of specific real world examples of mass customization in the wood products industry. These examples illustrated differing approaches to mass customization in the wood products industry. Among other things, the presentation described how mass customization works for each company, and how the company interacts with its customers including how companies have used their websites to advance mass customization.

Implementing Mass Customization
Urs Buehlmann (bio) and Torsten Lihra (bio)

This session discussed a number of important topics relating to successfully implementing a mass customization business model, including the approach to Communicating with and Interacting with Customers, the importance of Product Design, the role of the use of Standard Parts, the importance of effective Supply Chain Management, and the role of Lean Manufacturing and Flexible Manufacturing.

Information Technology as Mass Customization Enabler
Russ Kahn, Product Manager, 20-20 Technologies, Cary, North Carolina (bio)

This session discussed the importance of using advances in information technology as an enabler of successful mass customization. Topics discussed included the potential roles of the Internet; order entry; the use, as may be appropriate of engineering software such as CAD/CAM, the importance in many applications of a configurator; the use of Manufacturing Execution Systems, and other information technology topics.

Additional Resources

Mass Customization of Wood Furniture as a Competitive Strategy. Torsten Lihra, Urs Buehlmann, et. al. International Journal of Mass Customization. Vol 2. Nos. 3/4, 2008

In January 2006, Wood Digest published an entire issue devoted to mass customization with many good articles. Two that we particularly recommend are:

Smart Customization Comes of Age : Best Practices from the MIT Smart Customization Seminar 2008. Patricia Seybold, CEO of the Boston based consulting firm, Patricia Seybold Group. The examples in this paper do not involve wood products, but illustrate how mass customization is starting to take hold in the broader economy. Seybold is the New York Times best-selling author of, The Customer Revolution and Outside Innovation.

Other good on-line resources from experts on mass customization (although not specializing in wood products) include:

Build-to-Order - David Anderson
Mass Customization - David Gardner (scroll to the bottom of page)
Frank Piller's Website on Mass Customization, Customer Co-Creation and Innovation

Workshop Presenters

Dr. Urs Buehlmann email | 540.231.9759
Associate Professor, Virginia Tech Department of Wood Science & Forest Products - Blacksburg, Virginia

Urs focuses on secondary wood products manufacturing systems and business management. He previously served on the faculty of the North Carolina State Department of Wood and Paper Science. Urs' work has given special focus to the impact of foreign competition on the wood products industry in the United States, and how American companies can take steps to more effectively compete. He has focused on Lean Manufacturing and Mass Customization as important components of any such strategy. Urs is a leading expert on Mass Customization for the Wood Products Industry, having done research and having published a number of papers on the subject. Just as significant, Urs has more than 10 years of experience working directly for wood products companies, including serving as General Manager of Enkeboll Designs, a California based manufacturer of detailed architectural wood carvings that has implemented mass customization.

Dr. Torsten Lihra email | 418.659.2647 ext. 3329
Group Leader - Value Added Products, FP Innovations, Quebec City, Canada
FP Innovations - Wood Products is Canada's wood products research institute.

Over the last 15 years, Torsten has focused his work on secondary wood products manufacturing. He has conducted substantial academic research on mass customization, lean manufacturing, and marketing of wood products. He has published a number of papers on mass customization for the furniture industry, which was also the subject of his Ph.D dissertation. Torsten played a key role in creating the Partenariat de recherché sur l'industrie du memble (PARIM) (Research partnership for the furniture industry), a major initiative for conducting R&D dedicated to the Canadian furniture industry. Torsten also has direct experience working in the furniture industry.

Russ Kahn email | 919.659.1404
Product Manager, 20-20 Technologies, Cary, North Carolina

Russ is a leading expert on information technology to enable mass customization for the wood products industry. As Product Manager for the Enterprise Manufacturing Solutions group at 20-20 Technologies, Russ provides mass customization software solutions for cabinetmakers, residential furniture manufacturers, office casegoods, institutional casework, closets, and other products. Previously, Russ had similar experience heading up the Enterprise Manufacturing Solutions consulting team at Virtual Systems International (VSI), a supplier of software for the woodworking industry in North America. VSI was acquired by 20-20 Technologies in 2006. Prior to his 9 years of experience in the software industry, Russ worked directly in the furniture industry for 8 years. While at Haworth, Inc., a manufacturer of office furniture, Russ led a project team to implement a flexible software solution to support mass customization of Haworth's casegoods products.

Barrett Brown email | 800.462.3327
President, CedarWorks, Rockport, Maine

Using mass customization, CedarWorks manufactures wooden swing sets and playsets with many options including ladders, bridges, ramps, slides, tunnels, rope ladders, etc. These options can be configured in a large variety of ways to provide a customized playset. CedarWorks enables the customer to co-design their own playset online with simultaneous phone assistance from a CedarWorks sales agent, known as a "Design Partner". While CedarWorks' mass customization started with outdoor playsets, in recent years, CedarWorks launched a new line of mass customized indoor playsets.

Charles Griffiths email | 603.285.0400
President, Vigilant, Inc., Dover, New Hampshire

Vigilant manufactures wine cellars, wine racks, wine cellar doors, custom cabinetry and millwork, cigar and gun cabinets. While Vigilant has manufactured fully custom wine cellars for some time, four years ago, the company instituted a "design your own" program for the mass customization of wine cellars. An on-line tool provides a design platform for configuring various options of bins and cases, table, racks, decorative elements, doors, and other elements. A customer can co-design a wine cellar with phone assistance from a Vigilant sales agent. Vigilant also offers mass customization of wine cellar doors.

Lisa Weber email | 315.836.0073
Chief Executive Officer, Timeless Frames, Timeless Decor & Timeless Expressions, Watertown, New York

The Timeless family of companies manufactures wooden frames for art prints and photos ranging from inexpensive frames (e.g. $40) to expensive frames (e.g. $4,200). A customer can select from various frame moulding styles according to the unique size dimensions of their item, select and view options for mattes and matte design, glazing, etc. Through Timeless Decor, mass customization was implemented starting in 2006, working with retailers. In 2010, Timeless Expressions was launched to feature an online custom framing tool in conjunction with live chat support. The on-line design tool can be used both directly by a customer or in conjunction with a customer being served by a retailer.


Funding support for this workshop and other activities of the Regional Wood Products Consortium is provided, in part, by grants from the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund, the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, the Northeast Utilities Foundation and the Wood Education and Resource Center, Northeastern Area State & Private Forestry, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture