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What Is Custom Manufacturing?

B. Turner
B. Turner

Custom manufacturing is the process of making products or product lines based on each customer's unique set of specifications. Each product or line may vary by material, design, finish, or a host of other options. Custom manufacturing is the antithesis of traditional mass production, in which all goods were identical and produced in large quantities. This type of production allows manufacturers to create any type of product, with exact design criteria determined by the buyer.

Custom manufacturing is often categorized as a branch of lean manufacturing. Under a lean production system, factories devote resources solely to tasks related to producing a product. The goal is to minimize waste and equipment, and to turn inventory over as quickly as possible. To accomplish these goals, lean manufacturing relies largely on customer orders rather than traditional sales forecasting. Custom manufacturing can also be considered just-in-time manufacturing, where goods are produced just in time to meet required ship dates.

3D printers can be used to create custom models or products directly from digital designs.
3D printers can be used to create custom models or products directly from digital designs.

To create products to the specific requirements and specifications of the customer, a factory often incorporates special production systems. Rather than invest in a standard assembly line, the company relies on custom built equipment, or on machines that can be reconfigured to meet different needs. They may also utilize custom molds or dies to make a specific product line, then dispose of these dies in favor of new ones when the next custom orders come in. Custom manufacturing may also include the development of new composite materials with specific properties to meet the needs of each buyer.

One of the primary advantages associated with custom manufacturing is the opportunities it provides to companies. It allows buyers to find exactly the products they're looking for, while sellers can charge a premium for products. Customers are often willing to pay more for specialized or customized products that are better suited for their needs than mass-produced goods. This process also results in greater inventory turnover and fewer wasted materials. Finally, custom manufacturing allows companies to take advantage of rapid changes in technology, and to make products that keep up with these new innovations.

Custom manufacturing may not be the most effective option for all manufacturers, however. This method of production often requires a high upfront investment in equipment, and results in higher costs per unit for the buyer. Factories must also be capable of keeping up with frequent changes in equipment, materials, and techniques as they transition from one custom product line to the next.

Discussion Comments


@JaneAir - I'm not surprised to hear that custom manufacturing is expensive. After all, like the article said, they have to wait for customer to place an order before they even get started. Also, making a one of a kind item takes longer than making a mass produced item!

I'm guess the general consumer market for this kind of thing has lessened. I'm sure some business might still get custom manufactured stuff, but I don't know any individuals that could afford it right now!


My parents used a company that does custom manufacturing when they re-did their kitchen. Everything was done to their exact specifications: the counter tops, the table, and the cabinets. They had total control over the process and all the little details like the style and type of wood.

One thing to keep in mind though: it was super expensive. Having something custom made is always going to be much pricier than simply buying something mass produced. However, I think it's worth it if you can afford it. My parents kitchen looks great!

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    • 3D printers can be used to create custom models or products directly from digital designs.
      By: Dario Sabljak
      3D printers can be used to create custom models or products directly from digital designs.