Product modularization – the backbone of PLM, ERP and WMS systems
When a company wants to achieve success with customized products and mass customization, product modularization is a must. Modularization as such is recognized fairly well, but a) its impact on production capability is underestimated and b) it is often understood too narrowly. The management of modularization requires systematics. The work done for modularization will translate into benefits for operative efficiency and customer experience. Product modularization should be a common concern for the sales and production managers.
Mass customization, configuration and modularization – a few basic concepts
“No-one wants to work, everyone would simply wanna paint!” This firm opinion was once pronounced by an industrial equipment painter to me, then a young production development engineer. Many seem to have an opinion on painting, although only few understand anything about it, especially when it comes to industrial painting. A similar delusion of understanding plagues modularization, too.
Mass customization, configuration and modularization are related to the customer-specific production of products.
Mass customization is an upper-level concept which involves the idea of offering customer-specific products without increasing costs or extending delivery time.
Configuration is a mode of operation with which customer-specific products can be produced.
Modularization is a tool for creating customer-specific products or increasing the efficiency of operations for business-oriented reasons.
Modularization evokes various passionate associations, from Legos to software modules. Many have strong opinions on some individual aspects, such as engineering and CAD modelling versus production assemblies and installability. In the world of engineering workshops, for example, you sometimes hear someone claim: “We have modules: hydraulic, electric, and steel structure modules”. However, a single aspect like this seldom leads to a well-balanced, sustainable outcome; instead, the product modularity should be considered as a whole, from the viewpoint of more than one driver.
Product modularization – an underestimated and poorly understood approach
The management of items and of products built of these items is essential for all manufacturing companies. “Well planned is half done” holds very true both in household chores as well as in the assembly industry. If you manage an item, you also manage everything related to it: the offering, product variation, customer relationships, procurement, manufacturing, logistics – time, quality, costs, resources.
But why, then, is modulation not approached systematically? Based on what I’ve seen, it seems that companies already have the tools and methods, but they lack the know-how on how to apply them. Many have at least heard of modularization and mass customization, but they might not know how to get started. Perhaps people are afraid of the possible workload or are concerned that such a systematic approach could enslave them, stop product development or restrict the freedom of the marketing team.
The truth about modularization
Modularization helps to grasp and understand the managed product structure. Product variation and engineering changes can be targeted at a specific part of a given product. Moreover, modulation helps to better see the impacts of a certain feature variant on the product, such as power, length, color, language…
Modular Function Deployment (MFD) and especially the Module Indication Matrix (MIM) included in it is a way to organize the central components of a product structure into their own logically optimal structure branches, that is, modules. Each product component is evaluated against 12 module drivers; this is done by presenting a list of questions related to each driver and finding the answers.
The outcome of the evaluation is a weighted scorecard. With the help of that, you can then begin to form modules starting from the drivers with the highest scores. Often, the process involves a couple of iteration rounds to identify the technical and company-specific reasons that drive the components either to the same of different modules. The aim is to achieve a minimal number of (much) varying modules and a maximal number of constant, stable modules.
Many are able to evaluate a few different aspects at a time in their head, but evaluating 12 partly contradictory drivers at the same time in your head is, in practice, impossible. That is why we need systematics.
Modularization does not reduce your product portfolio
While modularization supports the standardization of components, it does not mean narrowing down the portfolio of end products offered to customers. Quite the contrary, modularization aims to satisfy all essential customer needs by building different module combinations to offer just the right kind of end product for the unique needs of each customer.
An essential key to achieving operational efficiency is extending product knowledge. However, if you have modularized your products and named all the modules distinctively, you should be able to configure products even with slightly less extensive product knowledge.
There are many other benefits as well:
- Shorter lead times in both engineering and production
- Clear module interfaces, which enable copying and Concurrent Engineering (CE)
- Assemblability and preparation of subassemblies
- Separate testability (quality)
- Management of product engineering changes and, thus, for example, the reduction of parts shortages.
Furthermore, Modular Function Deployment can also be used as the implementation model in projects aiming to develop a new product.
In short, modularization is a powerful strategy that should not be underestimated.
Time to get down to business?
If you got inspired and would like to drive modulation forward in your company, help and support are available. Do not hesitate to contact us – we are here for you!