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If it’s true that the concept of mass customization represents the next frontier in the global economy, one industry that’s anything but stuck in the past is jumping on board. The idea is this: Customize your product for each customer and rely on technology and ingenuity to incorporate economies of scale into the customization process to make it profitable. And market the heck out of the customization aspect.

One concrete masonry producer is doing just this while satisfying its share of the demand for the appearance of natural limestone on buildings—and it’s leading the way for its own industry. Northfield Block Co. of Mundelein, Ill., has started producing a concrete masonry unit (CMU) that provides the industry’s most serious challenge to natural cut limestone. For the past several years, Northfield’s Joliet, Ill., plant has been tinkering with how to mass-produce a unit that truly looks like it has been hand-chiseled.