Rethinking Healthcare

Mass customization to revolutionize health care

Mass customization to revolutionize health care

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Summit can make legs that not only attach correctly, reducing a wearer's pain, but that match the remaining limbs in appearance. They can be made dishwasher safe, and produced from recycleable materials.

Mass customization is the idea that you can use the economics of mass production yet deliver just one unit.

Michael Dell was the Henry Ford of this concept. You call, describe exactly what features you want on your PC, and they make it for you. One of a kind. Sort of.

But the concept has move much further, thanks to what is called 3D Printing. A computer file carries the design, a complex machine creates the part, and you're no longer prototyping, but making. Whatever you want.

As Scott Summit (right) of SummitID put it, "complexity is free."

This means great changes are in the works for all kinds of prosthetics, from teeth to limbs.

Every artificial body part is one-of-a-kind. People are all different, with different needs. Now these needs can be input and a device output that is custom to the wearer, but costs little more than a mass-produced part.

Summit can make legs that not only attach correctly, reducing a wearer's pain, but that match the remaining limbs in appearance. They can be made dishwasher safe, and produced from recycleable materials.

What people think of first when they look at prosthetics, of course, is war. One of the great movies of 1946, Best Years of Our Lives, hinges on a veteran's attempt to restart his life with two prosthetic arms, which have hooks at their ends. He was played by Harold Russell, a real veteran with prosthetics, who not being a real actor wasn't credited in the film's marketing. He won the Oscar for best supporting actor.

But people lose limbs outside war. They lose them in traffic accidents, they lose them to cancer, they lose them in random acts of violence. There are many such people, and you may know a few, and they are suffering.

Mass customization can now ease their pain.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure