Individual mass production doesn’t have to be a contradiction – scientists from four Fraunhofer institutes in Stuttgart are carrying out research at the High Performance Center “Mass Personalization” together with nine institutes from the University of Stuttgart as well as forward-looking partners from industry into how tailor-made products can be manufactured for the mass market. After the first pilot phase, the second funding phase is now also coming to an end, and the transfer institution, which is funded by the state government as well as the Fraunhofer Society, is taking stock of the progress made so far. The number of industrial partners has grown from an initial 22 to 69, while the expected return from industrial projects was significantly exceeded once again.
The concept of “mass personalization” entails transforming processes in the sense of a holistic understanding of how they are used, and focuses on taking the individual requirements and needs of customers and users into consideration when developing the products. The aim is to create a seamless transition which leads to customized product and service innovations – with significant added value for customers and users in order to make even personalized products for the mass market profitable and competitive in the future and to make them even better than traditional mass-produced items.
The research and development work carried out by the High Performance Center Mass Personalization in Stuttgart concentrates on the fields of healthcare, with a focus on pharmaceutical production, medicine technology and biomedical systems, and living spaces, with a focus on interior design and designing mobile spaces. Furthermore, the participating scientists tackle specific questions on how to realign processes with regard to integrating users into the product development process, analyzing the potential of mass personalization, adapting new and known technology as well as quality assurance. At the same time, this should provide important impulses for business and science. The results from 14 projects which were previously awarded funding also help here. These are extremely varied, and reflect the potential of the performance center for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Baden-Württemberg in particular due to the way they can be transferred to meet the challenges faced by different industries.
Production in the field of healthcare
In the field of healthcare, the High Performance Center Mass Personalization is carrying out research into hydrogels among other things. These are widely used in pharmacy and biomedicine, though previously however could not be processed using additive technologies or only to a very limited extent. Based on the interdisciplinary development carried out as part of the High Performance Center Mass Personalization it has been possible to develop a material and methodology toolbox, which means it can quickly be adapted to a variety of applications. Scaling the batch sizes up by a factor of four represents a promising opportunity for partner companies working in 3-D printing to quickly implement the procedure in their own manufacturing process. These findings should make the procedure easier to adapt to additional 3D printers as well as to produce various complex GelMA structures (gelatin methacryloyl), which can be used as personalized pharmaceutical dosage forms, personalized patches for applying to the skin, test systems and implants.
The approach developed in the field of medicine technology for the personalized virtual testing of corsets is also new, and should be improved further as part of the research and development projects carried out with SMEs and be expanded to include the analysis of orthopedic spinal adjustment using medical corsets. The target group is orthotics manufacturers, for whom special training courses for manufacturing personalized and quality-assured products should be provided as well as innovative products. The results of the next-generation quality control for the production of customized pharmaceutical products should enable breakthrough innovations in the fields of cell and gene therapeutics, which call for a new generation of quality controls. With regard to reliable and time-sensitive sterility controls in particular, there is an enormous need for quality controls among manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and reagents.
Living spaces of the future
With regard to living spaces, the High Performance Center Mass Personalization has been involved with designing the interiors of buildings and vehicles. In future, they should actively cater to the requirements of the individual users through light, color and personalized climate functions. This is how the team at the performance center attracted attention by designing the cabin for a flying taxi of the future, which reacts to the emotional needs of its passengers by adapting the shape, materials and influences which underpin the experience. Developing the “Air Time − Responsive Air Mobility Concept” approach won the participants first place in the competition held among the Fraunhofer network “Science, Art and Design”. Through the work done during the pilot phase and the second funding period of the High Performance Center Mass Personalization which has now finished, the relevant preliminary work can also be made available to SMEs which may e.g. become providers of relevant technologies and pioneers in this market at a later stage.
The POINTE (Personalization Of Indoor Thermal Environments) research project is developing a data-supported procedure which recognizes the climate preferences of individual vehicle users by means of machine learning. Typical preference profiles are determined based on data points from user interactions. In this way, the automatic climate control systems of fleet vehicles can be programmed according to comfort and energy requirements depending on the user type.
The intelligent acoustic window control which was also developed in the process prompts a window (for example in living or working spaces) to open or close automatically depending on noise outside the building but also depending on acoustics and CO2 pollution inside. The users also have the opportunity to give feedback to the system. The algorithm learns about the user’s individual requirements and habits based on this feedback, and therefore reacts to the user and how the user behaves in everyday life in an increasingly better adapted and more personalized way.
With the development of “Josy”, an interactive companion which serves as a social device, the team based at the performance center in Stuttgart has been able to make an important contribution to designing living spaces during the period of lockdown and isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, and has been able to develop the companion up until the prototype stage.
Potentials and evaluation
In addition to the research carried out in both the areas mentioned where there is a demand, the performance center has been dealing with the question of how the potential for personalization can be identified methodically irrespective of the industry and type of product, and how it can be made usable for companies as a stimulus for innovation. An appropriate “toolbox” has been developed at the performance center in order to enable the provision of quick answers. The central element in this toolbox is the “Personalization Potentials Canvas”, a tool which clearly lays out the complex dependencies and covers the key aspects of designing personalization solutions through the use of specific questions. The tool is supplemented by the “Personalization Hypotheses Canvas” to derive any possible courses of action, as well as the “Personalization Role Canvas” in order to ensure that the necessary self-reflection is carried out and the situation is understood even before the actual work begins.
Personalization can have both positive and negative effects on the environmental sustainability of products. With the holistic and methodical approach of the “Sustainable Personalized Product Development”, the High Performance Center Mass Personalization supports companies in various industries to design sustainable customized product development processes. User-centricity and sustainability aspects along the entire product lifecycle are merged and rethought during the process.
Stuttgart Partnership Initiative “Mass Personalization”
As part of the University of Stuttgart’s mass personalization partnership, the new initiative based on the issue of mass personalization also began work at the start of January 2021. The initiative focuses on carrying out excellent basic research into fabrication and biomaterial technologies for personalized biomedical systems:
- Interdisciplinary research between production technologies, biomedical technology and materials science.
- Transferring scientific findings to society via the High Performance Center Mass Personalization.
- Excellent teaching across faculties in the field of mass personalization.
The aim is to develop the research focus in mass personalization at the University of Stuttgart, particularly in the field of biomedical systems. As well as coordinating the strategic development at the University of Stuttgart, the initiative represents the University in organizing the High Performance Center Mass Personalization in collaboration with the Rectorate, it also strengthens the links between the University and other institutions, and leads to an improved utilization of resources by the individual institutions for the research focus on mass personalization in order to prepare further projects and partnerships for the envisaged third phase (to be continued from 2022).
The following faculties at the University of Stuttgart form part of the Stuttgart Partnership Initiative:
- Faculty 2 – Civil and Environmental Engineering
- Faculty 4 – Energy, Process and Bio-Engineering
- Faculty 5 – Computer Science, Electrical Engineering and Information Technology
- Faculty 7 – Construction, Production and Vehicle Technology
This range of players also demonstrates the broad scope of mass personalization for the production of the future.
Lifelong learning for specialists and managers
The high-performance center also deals with the question of which opportunities are offered by personalization and how industry and company-specific potential can be determined. The High Performance Center intends to use its lifelong learning program to provide a new impetus and support companies in implementing new approaches. The offers serve as an introduction to the broad spectrum of personalization. Methods are presented in interactive (online) training courses, through which user requirements, product requirements and the potential for personalization can be identified and assessed. The scientific connection also ensures that the content of the training courses always reflects the latest research carried out by the High Performance Center, and follows an innovative as well as practice-oriented approach.
One special feature of the training courses is that they are participant-oriented and entertaining – which participants respond particularly well to, much like they do to the content of the courses. So far, the High Performance Center has been able to welcome 120 people from 21 different industries to its training courses, which reflects the overarching relevance of the topic and the High Performance Center interdisciplinary approach. The content and format of the training courses is expanded on an ongoing basis in keeping with the variety of topics covered by the High Performance Center and based on the requirements of SMEs/companies.
The future of the performance center: a catalyst for innovation in Stuttgart and Baden-Württemberg
After the second funding period finished at the end of May 2021, there is currently a short transfer phase underway until the end of 2021. Things will restart next year, with an annual basic funding, which has already been secured, for developing the Fraunhofer Society up until 2025. The leadership team has also launched an ongoing and participative strategic process, which can be used to further promote service offerings and business models as well as content-related topic development. The results are reported and evaluated on an annual basis via a transfer roadmap. The aim is to permanently establish the performance center as a catalyst for innovation in the state of Baden-Württemberg as an economic and scientific powerhouse and to make a name for the trio of the Fraunhofer Society, the University of Stuttgart and industry in national and international markets.
Participating institutes of the University of Stuttgart
- Institute for Acoustics and Building Physics (IABP)
- Institute of Human Factors and Technology Management (IAT)
- Institute of Biomaterials and Biomolecular Systems (IBBS)
- Institute of Electrical Energy Conversion (IEW)
- Institute of Interfacial Process Engineering and Plasma Technology (IGVP)
- Institute of Industrial Manufacturing and Management (IFF)
- Institute for Modelling and Simulation of Biomechanical Systems (IMSB)
- Institute for Control Engineering of Machine Tools and Manufacturing Units (ISW)
- Institute of Laser Technologies (IFSW)
Participating Fraunhofer institutes