Jürgen Thurner
Jürgen Thurner
Juergen Thurner brings 28 years of expertise in various senior management positions of companies like Hewlett-Packard, Sanmina, Multi-Fineline Electronix and Flextronics. Founder of xprts4xInc - Thurner Suadicani & Partner. He lectures International Operations Management at the European School of Business at Reutlingen University. One of his main subjects is Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things.

Integrating the Customer into the Smart Factory

(image: ©violetkaipa)

Hello again everybody in the smart smt factory forum. In my last blog I briefly touched on the subject of integrating the customer into the smart factory. So, in this one I would like to emphasize a bit on what this could mean.

In spring 2014, Michelle Rheker, a student of mine, wrote a very good case study about Industry 4.0 and also touched on the subject of customer integration. I would like to share an excerpt of her case study with you and would like to stimulate a discussion on how you see the role of the customer in the smart factory and whether the smart factory could also be seen as a marketing instrument to strengthen customer relationships.

According to Michelle, Industrie 4.0 can be divided into five main action fields. One of these action fields is the customized production. The demand of consumers for individualized products increases continuously. Asking customers, companies should produce customized products (single piece flow) while providing the same conditions as known from mass production. Dealing with this action field, Industry 4.0 takes up the general trend of the increasing demand for customer integration.

Consumers and especially companies do not want standardized products any longer. Consumers are turning from the passive target of mass production into highly connected, well informed, critical and active co-creators. Today’s consumers desire primarily two things: Firstly, they want products that take account of their individual requirements and secondly, they want to participate in the production process. In the service sector, customer integration is an established concept due to the circumstance that the customer is part of the value creation (integration of the external factor).

As a result, there are many definitions of customer integration with the focus on services, but only a few that have a more holistic view on the subject. The purpose of integrating the customer is to strengthen the customer relationship, as it is widely acknowledged that long term customer relationships promise much higher returns than single transactions. In general, the possibilities of integrating the customer into the entrepreneurial value chain are numerous. Therefore the task of a company is to evaluate where the integration delivers the greatest value, respectively in which degree the customer should be integrated.


As described in figure 1, one approach to differentiate between the possibilities of integration is to evaluate the relation between the customer and the company on the one hand and the time when he will be integrated on the other hand.

In summary it can be stated that within the service sector, customer integration is well established. What is new, is the transfer of the concept into the manufacturing sector. The working group of Industrie 4.0 decided to focus on the increasing demand for customer integration. However, the question about the possibilities of integration and the impact on the supply chain still exists.

Starting from this question, I would be keen to hearing from you where you see the possibilities to integrate the customer into the production process by using the new technological capabilities of Industry 4.0.

source: Rheker, 2014: Which impact does Industrie 4.0 have on the supply chain?

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