Lumographics: 3D Configurators in Mass Customization [Interview]

LumologoSeeing is believing. This old yet certainly often correct phrase describes one of the phenomena of human psychology: No matter how great your product is, no matter how well you describe it in text, one subpar image can ruin the entire impression and make your would-be customer decide against the purchase.

This is especially true when it comes to products for which buying decision is mainly based on aesthetics. Customers usually (more or less) instantly recognize what they like but are often bad at describing it with words – or transforming a product description into a mental picture of the product.

Mass customized products add to this by putting the "burden" of design into the customers hands, enabling him to decide which combination of design factors looks best – and, forcing him to do so.

 3D visualizations as part of a configurator is one option companies have to make life a bit easier for their clients and increase chances to sell a product. Well visulized products give an instant idea of what one will gain for his money and how it will change with different options selected. As with most configurator-related things, though: If it is being done the right way.

Since 3D modeling and the required software coding is certainly not easy, seeking professional help is usually a good idea. One such company to assist mass customization ventures in presenting their products in the right light is LumoGraphics.

Being in the business of professional-grade 3D configuration systems since 1998, the German company works for industry mayors such as Mercedes-Benz, helping them to visualize their line of buses in full 3D.

Marc HerlingMarc Herling, CEO of LumoGraphics and speaker at the MC2012 conference in June, was kind enough to answer some of our questions about 3D modeling as a service, as a business model, as an enabler and how mass customization companies can profit from it.

FTP: Marc, your company Lumo Graphics offers
completely individualized 3D products visualization, which is a good example
for service customization. What kinds of services and products do you
offer and how far can they be individualized to each client of yours?

MH: Lumo
Graphics offers solutions for 3D visualization and configuration based on our
standard platform LumoLogic. With LumoLogic users can combine their complex
product structure and variants with the configuration logic and a real-time 3D visualization.
Besides the services for project management and support Lumo Graphics also
offers additional tools like LumoLogic DataPreparator for process integration
and LumoVis as a 3D visualization engine.

FTP: Can you tell a bit about what you have in store
for companies?

MH: Lumo
Graphics works for a lot of customers especially in the complex B2B area. They
all like the integrated and complete solution of Lumo Graphics with 3D
visualization, configuration management and data integration. With Lumo
Graphics companies can avoid failures in the implementation of a 3D
configurator, because of our one stop shopping approach.

FTP: In your presentation at the MC2012 you used the
term YGWYW (You Get What You Want), as an evolvement of the classical WYSIWYG
(What You see Is What You Get). Can you tell more about how 3D imagery changes
the product/buying experience for shoppers when using online configurators?

MH: It is
widely known that seeing is believing. We also quite often talk about that an
image is worth more than 1000 words. So if a customer decides for a complex and
often expensive product he needs a qualitative decision support that is given
by 3D visualization. Products are not only being sold by a rational decision
process but quite often by an emotional aspect, especially in aesthetical
design decisions. 3D visualization also helps customers to understand the
overall possibilities of a product and its variants. So at the end the customer
will get a compelling impression of its own product and forces a correct and a
comprehensible decision.

FTP: Getting a really professional 3D visualization
is most likely more expensive than having a photographer shooting my products.
For which companies do you think these additional costs are outweighing by the
added value of 3D imagination? In other words: For whom are the costs worth it?

MH: If a
company sells products with no or only limited variants than it may be cheaper
to hire a photograph. But in a case that your products have a lot of variants
then it is impossible for a photographer to cover all of them in a given
timeframe and budget. And you always need to wait until the product exists. With
software like that of Lumo Graphics you will be able to manage thousands of
variants and their graphical representation quite easily.

FTP: Do you think 3D product demonstration is
especially suited for MC companies because of the fact that consumers (=
non-professional designers) are integrated into the product design process?

MH: Absolutely.
You have millions of possibilities for a 3D visualization especially in e-commerce.
MC companies need to have a graphical representation of their products because
it makes the customers decision so much easier. Why? In Mass customization the
customers always have a fear of a wrong decision because the product does not
exist before he orders it. So he does not know if it will work (Functional failures)
and if it will look like he is expecting (Aesthetical failures). So the 3D
visualization  assists the customer in his
decision process.

FTP: Can you tell more about the (emotional)
importance of presenting the consumer a more realistic image of what he’s going
to buy?

MH: Think about
dating sites or Facebook. Why does every user of these sites choose an
excellent or a funny picture? The eye believes realistic pictures. And the
pictures create involvement. It’s the same with product visualization. I want
to buy the best looking and working product. If the visualization of a product is
nearly perfect the involvement goes up!

FTP: Do you have figures or specific customer
feedback on how implementing 3D visualizations improved sales or customer
loyalty?

MH: Franz Rapp,
Designer of Mercedes-Benz Buses told us: "We introduced the 3D interior
configurator in order to give our customers reliable support in making
decisions about our highly complex products. After well over 1000 successful
consultations, we have demonstrated that we're right on track with Lumo
Graphics".

Other
customers told us that they reduced the failure rate and the cost of change by
more than 20%.

FTP: How does cooperating with you work in practice?

MH: As I said
before we are a solution company. So if a company identifies the need for 3D visualization
we advise them based on our expertise and technology. After the decision for an
implementation we need to find and prepare the product data (geometries,
dependencies, and so on). In that step we also generate the 3D models and
visualizations of all products parts. After that we install LumoLogic and build
the rules for the real-time visualization. If the customer uses a configuration
toolkit we integrate it. And of course we support the customer in all
questions.

FTP: Pretended I was a medium sized MC company
asking for assistance to set up a 3D configurator for my online store. Which
services/products would you recommend to me and how would the process evolve
from there?

MH: First of
all you need to ask what kind of value do you expect from using a 3D
configuration process. Will your product fit and do you have all the product
data? Just a simple example. Would mymuesli.com sell so much more by using a 3D
configurator?

If you
think and believe that the 3D configurator will help you to get more revenue or
to cut costs or to increase the efficiency of your processes, than we will
advise the customer based on our solutions. And we also talk about the
investment in Hard- and Software. If all checkings  generate a positive ROI than we will offer
the customer the LumoLogic and LumoVis products.

FTP: How easy is it to maintain a 3D configurator in
my online store?

MH: The main
part in maintaining a 3D configurator is the administration of the product
logic. So do I need to stay flexible to change parts in the product database or
does it take long periods of time to get updated 3D models whenever I want to
change something?

With
LumoLogic we offer a very easy administration tool to combine product parts
with 3D images and configuration rules.

FTP: Can you talk about business figures at all, how
well-received are your services on the MC market?

MH: Depends on
your definition of the MC market. We have a strong position at B2B MC companies
that sell complex products. We don’t have such a strong position in the B2C
segment of the market. But with our strategy we grow approx. 40% per year in the
last years.

FTP: Do you have more traditional or mass
customization companies, and how is the trend there?

MH: We serve
nearly 100% traditional mass customization companies. By that we mean companies
that sell traditional products but with the mass customization approach. But quite
often they don’t name it Mass Customization.

FTP: Obviously most MC companies are still relying
on classical 2D images for their product presentation, while rendered 3D models
have been available since many years. Why, in your opinion, do they still
hesitate to change to the third dimension?

MH: 3D has
quite often not a good reputation because many people believe that it is
complicated and expensive. But with the enormous boost for the 3D technology in
the last years the use of 3D became very easy. And with the enormous boost in bandwidth
we believe that the usage of 3D models in marketing and sales is going to increase.

FTP: What do you think of mass customization in
general, will it be "just a trend" or become (one of) the major
retail models of the future?

MH: Mass
Customization is in the B2B Segment a huge part of the technical solution
concept to deliver technical and design variants, so it is not a trend it is
reality.

FTP: Having worked with MC companies before, which
advice do you want to give to them, especially in regards to the importance of
and proper setup of visual product presentation?

MH: Start small
with only one product or product line but work on the process. 3D visualizations
are only one part of the complete configuration process. The full configuration
of the product is represented in a configuration management tool. But also look
at a tool based administration for 3D visualization and use standard software.
Also have in mind that you want to sell across more than one channel. Use 3D
models for configuration and real-time visualization but CGI (computer
generated images) for printed offers. With that you will be prepared fort he 3D
configuration future.

FTP: Marc, thank you very much for these insights! I am looking forward to see more (MC) products being represented in a more realistic way, using professional 3D technology, in the future.

About the Author:

Frank T. Piller is a Co-Director of the MIT Smart Customization Group at the MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, and a chair professor of management at the Technology & Innovation Management Group of RWTH Aachen University, Germany, one of Europe’s leading institutes of technology. Before entering his recent position in Aachen, he worked at the MIT Sloan School of Management (2004-2007) and has been an associate professor of management at TUM Business School, Technische Universitaet Muenchen. Frequently quoted in The New York Times, The Economist, and Business Week, amongst others, Frank is regarded as one of the leading experts on strategies for customer-centric value creation, like mass customization, personalization, and innovation co-creation. His recent analysis of the crowdsourcing business model “Threadless” (co-authored with Susumu Ogawa), an innovative crowdsourcing business model in the fashion industry, has been elected as one of the Top-20 articles in MIT Sloan Management Review.