Product-centric and platform-modularity approaches are common methods used to develop products. For companies with only one product, the product-centric approach works well. However, manufacturers with a family of products utilize product line engineering for increased efficiency. Developing products with a platform-modularity approach brings a host of benefits.
Introduction to a Platform-Modularity Approach
For many companies, the days of manufacturing and selling a single product are over. Today’s manufacturers commonly have an entire line of products that share engineering assets. Managing the design and production of these similar products requires a modern approach. As a result, it’s helpful to utilize product line engineering.
Product line engineering, commonly associated with product platforms and modularity, is a set of processes and tools used to develop reusable, feature-based modules that are combined to create product variants. Of course, developing the modules and products in a platform requires careful coordination around engineering assets, ranging from mechanical design models, electrical or electronic diagrams and schematics, or even testing protocols.
BigLever is one company offering a product line engineering solution. This post will discuss Big Lever’s platform-modularity approach and how manufacturers can benefit from using this technology.
Alternative Approach Using Spreadsheets and Documents
Managing product platforms, lines, and variants is no easy task. For years, companies relied on spreadsheets and documents when developing a family of related products. Unfortunately, the complexities of modern product families make it difficult to manage new product development with tools like spreadsheet and documents.
Digital assets, like design models, simulations, drawings, and more, should not be duplicated. When a module is already available, it must be reused along with all the accompanying assets. There are a few problems that arise on this front when companies use spreadsheets and documents for this application. First, spreadsheets don’t help engineers find existing assets or even if they already exist. Second, even if they know a certain asset exists, it may not be easy to locate the asset especially if the asset hasnt been in use for a long time.
Another problem with platforms that is difficult to manage with spreadsheets and documents is change. A module that passes a physical test in one product might fail the physical test for another. A number of change orders against a module for one product might not need any changes when used in a different product. Engineers might modify the module in any of these cases to suit a new module. But care must be taken to ensure that this change doesnt impact every product where the changed module is involved. This is not possible when companies manage modules with spreadsheets and documents.
BigLever’s onePLE with Gears
BigLever’s onePLE approach has two components: engineering services and software. BigLever experts study your product development process and engineering assets and then identify best practices to successfully implement product line engineering. Armed with this knowledge, BigLever’s engineering services team configures a software solution for the client using Gears software.
The process of implementing the platform-modularity approach using a Gears software solution is a methodical one. As a first step, engineers identify engineering assets and specify modules shared between products. Assets are shared when a family of similar products is produced in a product line. These assets may involve documents, mechanical BOM, simulation models, system design, hardware design, test cases, and much more. BigLever’s solution ensures that there are never multiple copies of the same engineering asset.
The Gears solution enables engineers to collect all product related features in a feature catalog. It is possible that these engineering assets may have slight variations. These variation points are shared assets that may not be exactly the same for each product. For example, a bill of materials for one product may differ slightly from that of another product in the same product line. All these variation points are recorded in the feature catalog.
The features of each product are detailed in the bill of features. Using the Gears solution, BigLever keeps track of the engineering assets, feature catalog, and variation points throughout the entire process. The Gears solution delivers the right set of engineering assets automatically for each product. When any of the inputs change, the Gears solution automatically updates the relevant assets for all the related products.
Advantages of Using BigLever’s Approach
Companies gain ample advantages when adopting a feature-based platform-modularity approach. These are some of the benefits of product line engineering.
Since this approach ensures that shared engineering assets are not duplicated, engineers no longer waste time and effort producing, maintaining, and modifying duplicate assets. This saved time can be spent on developing new products and engineering assets.
A product line engineering approach also makes it easier to develop new products within the same product line. Most of the engineering assets will be available for new product development. Engineers simply need to configure new product features utilizing the feature catalog. Manufacturers no longer need to produce every engineering asset for the new product. The Gears solution instead allows manufacturers to create engineering assets for new products based on existing features.
Defects are costly. A PLE approach helps manufacturers have fewer defects and encourages a zero-defect culture. Achieving zero defects across a product line may seem impossible, but manufacturers can now work towards that goal. Manufacturers who properly implement product line engineering reduce defects across their portfolio. When a defect is identified in one product, the same defect is easily corrected across all products sharing that feature. In a traditional approach, engineers would need to correct the defect in each individual product. With a platform-modularity approach, your organization saves time and money.
Product line engineering is an effective way for manufacturers to develop new products and manage existing products in the same family. It is far superior to the traditional product-centric approach. Engineers can use existing assets to create new products in a product line. Manufacturers, meanwhile, can stop wasting time creating or searching for engineering assets that already exist.
Manufacturers can also foster a zero-defect culture with a product line engineering solution. Engineers can quickly identify and fix any defects found in one product and apply them across a family of products. A platform-modularity approach can help manufacturers bring better products to market faster.
BigLever’s onePLE solution with Gears harnesses the best practices needed for product line engineering. Embracing best practices for platform modularity approach improves the product development process as a whole.