Modular Product Family Development Within a SME

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Product variation is becoming an important factor in companies’ ability to accurately meet customer requirements. Ever increasing consumer options mean that customers have more choice than ever before which puts commercial pressures on companies to continue to diversify. This can be a particular problem within Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) who do not always have the level resources to meet these requirements. As such, methods are required that provide means for companies to be able to produce a wide range of products at the lowest cost and shortest time. This paper details a new modular product design methodology that provides a focus on developing modular product families. The methodology’s function is described and a case study detailed of how it was used within a SME to define the company’s product portfolio and create a new Generic Product Function Structure from which a new family of product variants can be developed. The methodology lends itself to modular re-use which has the potential to support rapid development and configuration of product variants.

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... It has been successfully implemented in large-scale industries throughout the years, for example, automobile, aircraft, and industrial equipment industries, such as Ford, Airbus, ABB, and Danfoss (Otto et al., 2016). There have also been records of successful use within SMEs (Myrodia et al., 2017;Stewart and Yan, 2008). ...
... Modularization has been applied successfully in large industries and scopes throughout the years (Meyer and Lehnerd, 1997;Otto et al., 2016;Simpson, 2003). Although many of the tools were developed through large companies, records exist of successful use of modularization within SMEs (Myrodia et al., 2017;Stewart and Yan, 2008;Sundgren, 1999). The definition of modularization is very diverse in literature. ...
... The identified papers focus on different aspects of modularization and its implementation. Among the case study-or empirical study-based research, some studies included only large companies (Appelqvist and Gubi, 2004;de Avila and Borsato, 2014;Feitzinger and Lee, 1997;Løkkegaard and Mortensen, 2017;Meyer and Dalal, 2001;Muffatto, 1999;Nobeoka and Cusumano, 1997;Pasche, 2011;Piran et al., 2017;Stewart and Yan, 2008;Wouters and Kerssens-van Drongelen, 2004). The rest included both large companies and SMEs or focused solely on the latter (Antonio et al., 2007;Dadfar et al., 2013;Engel et al., 2016;Fagerstrom and Jackson, 2003;Hansen and Sun, 2011;Haug et al., 2012;Huang et al., 2010;Hvam et al., 2013;Saliba et al., 2017;Stewart and Yan, 2008;Sundgren, 1999). ...
Long-term commonalities and experiences with modularization in comparable small- and medium-sized enterprises have been identified as a research gap. This article contributes by describing a unique collection of experiences from companies that received a similar introduction to the same core modularization topics through a series of introductory initiatives. This shared introduction makes the projects and processes of the companies comparable. The study reveals three main aspects of achieving significant long-term benefits from modularization initiatives: the company must (1) aim big and be willing to change its foundation accordingly, (2) draw on the right positional strength and have broad organizational inputs, and (3) properly coordinate work and then actively seek to preserve the focus and results over a long period of time. Interviews were conducted with representatives from 12 of these companies. Qualitative and quantitative data obtained from the interviews were used to draw parallels between the definition, execution, and impact of modularization. The stated results and project circumstances show commonalities for the successful implementation of modularization. They indicate which actions lead to the desired changes and secure the results persistently. The participants have achieved various results, such as strategic changes, new architectures, fewer variants, higher product earnings, and new development processes. Some have also introduced maintenance plans to secure the results, such as establishing configurators, performing weekly analyses, recruiting dedicated personnel, and so on. The interviews revealed several influencing factors, such as management support, internal communication, organizational drive, proper facilitation, and prioritized project management. They also indicated that significantly more improvement can be achieved with proper goal setting and commitment to specific goals. These are the factors that can help future small- and medium-sized enterprises in the proper incorporation of modularization and in maximizing their exploitation of modularization theory.
... Four different modularity approaches were introduced in the PEC field; PEBB, MIC, MMC, and PCA. According to Stewart and Yan (2008), structural independence and functional independence are essential characteristics of a module. [29]. ...
... According to Stewart and Yan (2008), structural independence and functional independence are essential characteristics of a module. [29]. In accordance with this definition. ...
... The idea behind a modular design is to allow the combination of distinct modules e through defined interfaces e to compose products. There are a variety of concepts on this subject, but according to Stewart and Yan (2008), the principal characteristics related to modularity are the structural independence, functional independence, minimization of interfaces and interactions with other modules and of external influences. Modularity facilitates upgrades, adaptations, modifications and product assembly and disassembly, it also increases product variety, enables economies of scale and reduces production time. ...
Modularity is a strategy recognized by the academia and the industry, and modular architecture is argued to play an important role in the development of sustainable products. The objective of this article is to explore the intersection between modularity and sustainable design from the perspective of the product life cycle. To achieve this objective, a systematic review was conducted and a total of 81 articles were selected and distributed in seven different categories of subjects: Life Cycle Assessment, Design for X, Green Modularization, Manufacture, Modularization Reviews, Supply Chain, and Usage. We identified in the literature that: (i) benefits are claimed in every life cycle phase (production, use, and disposal); (ii) academic research is mainly focused in the production phase and in projecting product disposal scenarios, offering a wide variety of methods and methodologies to modularize products with environmental concerns. However, modularity could also present limitations, and the realization of its benefits is partially influenced by user's decisions. Our conclusion points that, in spite of the association of modularity with environmental benefits, a better understanding of the entire life cycle of modular products and their environmental impact is needed to decide whether modularization is a suitable sustainable strategy or not.
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We explore the structuring principle of modularity with the objective of analysing its current ability to meet the requirements of a ‘re-use’ centred approach to design. We aim to highlight the correlation’s between modular design and ‘re-use’, and argue that it has the potential to aid the little-supported process of ‘design-for-re-use’. In fulfilment of this objective we not only identify the requirements of ‘design-for-re-use’, but also propose how modular design principles can be extended to support ‘design-for-re-use’.
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The design of module interfaces is very important when developing so-called modular products. The interfaces should not only be designed for the module variety but should also be specified early to allow parallel activities. This paper outlines an approach where the interfaces, in the beginning of the process, are defined within some bounds. Later when more information about the modules and their variety is available the interface is conceptualised by topological optimisation and detailed by shape optimisation. The shape optimisation is however complemented with Robust Design technique in order to increase the interface commonality for the variety range. INTRODUCTION Traditionally modular products refer to products that fulfil various overall functions through the combination of distinct building blocks (Pahl and Beitz, 1996). With this definition modularisation would refer to the careful activity of balancing part commonality and part variety for a product range. The basic idea is to enlarge customer satisfaction through product customisation while retaining economy of scale. The problem is to do the right balance or trade-off between commonality and variety, i.e. the balance between technical optimality and cost reduction. In order to capitalise from the modular concept, common (no or few variants) interfaces is a prerequisite, i.e. the interface should be suited for a range of mating modules. Lately, modular products have been generalised to products that are composed of building blocks chosen by specific reasons (Erixon, 1998), i.e. in order to create the modules aspects such as internal organisation, out-sourcing, after market sales and recycling, etc., ought to be considered. This definition for modular products imply that modularisation may be seen as an Integrated Product Development approach to the product structuring activity. For example, by selecting the right module structure, design and manufacturing of the separate modules may be carried out in parallel, a concept that relies on an early definition of module interfaces during the product development cycle. Thus, module interfaces must be robustly designed in order to cope with the product assortment induced variety and the requirements for the module interfaces should preferably be defined early. The objective with this study is to present a simulation view on the process of designing robust module interfaces in terms of product variety. The focus is on how the interface concepts may be generated, chosen and optimised by combining the Finite Element (FE) method for topological optimisation and shape optimisation, and Robust Design. Furthermore, we suggest that some constraints and requirements on the interfaces are defined early, however the detailed interface design is left as black box volume (interface component) until more information about the mating modules are available. The approach is based on the classical idea of first expand the solution space and then afterwards chose the most promising solutions, narrowing the solution space, by using the aforementioned methods. Thus, this paper outlines an approach where FE based topological optimisation and Robust Design is combined to facilitate late conceptualisation and optimisation of interface components, initially defined as black box volumes. The basic concept is elaborated on and exemplified with a simple and illustrative case.
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Product family design and platform-based product development has received much attention over the last decade. This paper provides a comprehensive review of the state-of-the-art research in this field. A decision framework is introduced to reveal a holistic view of product family design and platform-based product development, encompassing both front-end and back-end issues. The review is organized according to various topics in relation to product families, including fundamental issues and definitions, product portfolio and product family positioning, platform-based product family design, manufacturing and production, as well as supply chain management. Major challenges and future research directions are also discussed.
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This paper describes an approach for reusing engineering design knowledge. Many previous design knowledge reuse systems focus exclusively on geometrical data, which is often not applicable in early design stages. The proposed methodology provides an integrated design knowledge reuse framework, bringing together elements of best practice reuse, design rationale capture and knowledge-based support in a single coherent framework. Best practices are reused through the process model. Rationale is supported by product information, which is retrieved through links to design process tasks. Knowledge-based methods are supported by a common design data model, which serves as a single source of design data to support the design process. By using the design process as the basis for knowledge structuring and retrieval, it serves the dual purpose of design process capture and knowledge reuse: capturing and formalising the rationale that underpins the design process, and providing a framework through which design knowledge can be stored, retrieved and applied. The methodology has been tested with an industrial sponsor producing high vacuum pumps for the semiconductor industry.
Conference Paper
The design of module interfaces is very important when developing so-called modular products. The interfaces should not only be designed for the module variety but should also be specified early to allow parallel activities. This paper outlines an approach where the interfaces, in the beginning of the process, are defined within some bounds. Later when more information about the modules and their variety is available the interface is conceptualised by topological optimisation and detailed by shape optimisation. The shape optimisation is however complemented with Robust Design technique in order to increase the interface commonality for the variety range.
Modular products consist of detachable modules, some of which may be recyclable, reusable or remanufacturable upon product retirement. This paper presents an integrated modular design methodology for environment conscious design and manufacturing. The methodology identifies the factors related to the design objectives, relates these factors to design components through interaction analysis, and clusters components into modules. An example is provided to illustrate the methodology and the algorithms.
Due to the complexity of contemporary technology, product and system design efforts often require intensive organization and communication within teams; the design venture must accordingly be carefully planned and systematically executed, integrating the various aspects of the design process into a logical and comprehensible whole. The present comprehensive and systematic treatment of this methodology proceeds by clarifying the design task, establishing the function structures of a conceptual design, and finally determining the definitive layout embodying the design. Illustrative examples of actual product design processes and their results are presented and evaluated.
This paper presents an overview of existing research on measures of product modularity and methods to achieve modularity in product design. Discussions of the development of modular products have increased in recent years. The research activity into the development of modularity measures and methods has also increased. These measures and methods vary considerably in purpose and process. Some are highly quantitative and some are completely qualitative. Some are information intensive and some are more easily applied. The relationship to product platform planning is also shown. This overview shows no clear consensus beyond those found in the definition of modularity. There are, however, several themes that are prevalent. Most measures center on measuring dependencies with components external to modules. Some measures include a measure of component similarity. However, what is measured as dependencies and similarities varies by measure and by context. Additionally, there is always some subjectivity in the measures. The design methods vary greatly. Many are based on measures. Most are information intensive. Noticeably, the measures and methods lack rigorous verification and validation. There is also a lack of quantitative comparison among the various measures and methods. It is hoped that this research will highlight the present inconsistencies in the field of modular product design and put forward some critical questions, which will shape future research into this field.
Kodak has successfully learned the strategy of developing many distinctively different models from a common platform. Between April 1989 and July 1990, Kodak redesigned its base model and introduced 3 additional models, all having common components and common production process steps. The platform approach to product development is an important success factor in many markets. By sharing components and production processes across a platform of products, companies can develop differentiated products efficiently, increase the flexibility and responsiveness of their manufacturing processes, and take market share away from competitors that develop only one product at a time. The fundamentals of platform planning are discussed in detail.
The present paper presents an overview of existing research on the definition of modular product design and its benefits. Modularity has been discussed in terms of product development for quite some time. In recent years, the discussions have increased. The development of metrics and methods has also increased. However, these metrics and methods are often based on different definitions and varying goals. Understanding what modularity is and why it is useful is the foundation of modular product design. The purpose of this paper is to examine the existing literature and draw conclusions about where consensus exists and areas for further discussion. The relationship to product platform planning is also shown. This overview shows that there is a clear consensus on the point of independence of form and function. Within this definition, there is a strong pressure to extend modularity beyond form-function concerns and out across the life-cycle. Additionally, there is pressure to look at similarity or compatibility within modules in addition to independence. The benefits of modular design are widely advocated. When taken across a product family, many are quite intuitive. There has been no work to show these benefits in the modularity of singular products over their design life. It is hoped that this research will highlight the present inconsistencies in the field of modular product design and put forward some critical questions, which will shape future research into this field.
[amazon 2006:]newline Treating such contemporary design and development issues as identifying customer needs, design for manufacturing, prototyping, and industrial design, "Product Design and Development, 3/e", by Ulrich and Eppinger presents in a clear and detailed way a set of product development techniques aimed at bringing together the marketing, design, and manufacturing functions of the enterprise. The integrative methods in the book facilitate problem solving and decision making among people with different disciplinary perspectives, reflecting the current industry trend to perform product design and development in cross-functional teams.
Creating product platforms from which many products can easily be leveraged is an issue of increasing concern for many companies. This article introduces and explores the concept of interface management (IM) in new product platform development. IM is the distinct process of developing and defining the physical platform interfaces. The concept of IM is empirically explored in two product family development projects in the Swedish manufacturing industry that have been longitudinally studied for more than 3 years. It is proposed that firms which have a product family development approach that is associated with an extensive IM process enjoy a high degree of freedom in deciding how to balance its time to market for individual products with the beneficial utilization of design familiarities across all products. Moreover, if product managers understand and explicitly focus on the IM process, the often challenging shift from a single product development approach to a product family development approach is likely to be facilitated. © 1999 Elsevier Science Inc.
Developing product architectures is a key phase in design and development processes. It encompasses the transformation of product function to alternative product layouts. In this paper, we describe a new approach for identifying modules for product architectures. We begin by reviewing the terminology and motivation for modular products. The new concepts of a functional basis and time ordered function chains are used to formally derive functional models of products. Then, three heuristic methods for identifying modules from functional models are presented. Using the formal functional decomposition and heuristic methods, modular design can be executed earlier in the product development process, as illustrated by the example of a consumer power-tool product and a larger, complex maintenance device. A database of 70 consumer products is used to verify and confirm the overall modular design approach.
Modularity refers to the use of common units to create product variants. This paper aims at the development of models and solution approaches to the modularity problem for mechanical, electrical, and mixed process products (e.g., electromechanical products). To interpret various types of modularity, e.g., component-swapping, component-sharing and bus modularity, a matrix representation of the modularity problem is presented. The decomposition approach is used to determine modules for different products. The representation and solution approaches presented are illustrated with numerous examples. The paper presents a formal approach to modularity allowing for optimal forming of modules even in the situation of insufficient availability of information. The modules determined may be shared across different products
The need to model and to reason about design alternatives throughout the design process demands robust representation schemes of function, behavior, and structure. Function describes the physical effect imposed on an energy or material flow by a design entity without regard for the working principles or physical solutions used to accomplish this effect. Behaviors are the physical events associated with a physical artifact (or hypothesized concept) over time (or simulated time) as perceived by an observer. Structure, the most tangible concept, partitions an artifact into meaningful constituents such as features, Wirk elements, and interfaces in addition to the widely used assemblies and components. The focus of this work is on defining a model for function-based representations that can be used across various design methodologies and for a variety of design tasks throughout all stages of the design process. In particular, the mapping between function and structure is explored and, to a lesser extent, its impact on behavior is noted. Clearly, the issues of a function-based representation's composition and mappings directly impact certain computational synthesis methods that rely on (digitally) archived product design knowledge. Moreover, functions have already been related to not only form, but also information of user actions, performance parameters in the form of equations, and failure mode data. It is essential to understand the composition and mappings of functions and their relation to design activities because this information is part of the foundation for function-based methods, and consequently dictates the performance of those methods. Toward this end, the important findings of this work include a formalism for two aspects of function-based representations (composition and mappings), the supported design activities of the model for function-based representations, and examples of how computational design methods benefit from this formalism.
Conference Paper
A systematic method to construct the function platform for a specific product family is proposed. Based on the function basis and heuristic method, function modules of each product variants existing in the current product family can be identified. These modules as well as their instances can be categorized according to the relevant design variables. Then two distinct strategies, titled as multi-object optimal selection and similarity-based method separately, are adopted to identify function modules which can be shared among different product variants and can be sequentially used to construct the product platform. As a result, this mixed method can support platform identification for various product family comprised of different kinds of product variants.
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