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This was the conclusion drawn by a study from the consultancy BearingPoint in partnership with the Technical University of Darmstadt and specialist publication Logistik Heute [Logistics Today], which surveyed experts from 79 companies in the fields of mechanical and systems engineering in German-speaking countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland). The study revealed that the increasing diversity of products and variations and shorter product life cycles are instigating changes across every business area.

Most respondents view product configuration as critical to their success and competitiveness on the market. However, engineering has a (too-) strong influence: Company divisions such as sales, purchasing, and IT are consulted only minimally on the design and implementation of configuration models – or not at all. Many companies are also giving up halfway through the digitization process: “Though data regarding the product options sold are often analyzed, about three quarters of the respondents have not yet exploited the results.” For example, one idea would be to vary pricing for options that are less in demand.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular struggle to maintain the balance between product variety and efficient production. Scaling tends to be more feasible for larger, automatized factories. In contrast, being able to manufacture the widest possible variety of products requires more flexible workshops, according to a study from the iit Institute for Innovation and Technology . The authors consider the critical challenge facing SMEs to be finding solutions that can be extensively adapted to their production lines and that reveal achievable benefits through digital technology as quickly as possible.