Optimization-Based Configurators in the Product Development Process

Abstract: Requirements from the market on customer responsiveness and pressure on the environmental profiles of companies, both internally and externally, are challenging companies to amend their processes in all possible aspects in order to stay competitive. For product development companies, the challenges often lie in developing and delivering products rapidly, customized and meeting the set requirements. For highly customized products, mass customization is a term describing a company setting in which products meet each customer’s individual requirements but are still produced and delivered at near mass-production efficiency. The concept of mass customization is becoming a prerequisite for the survival of companies within this niche. For more complex engineering products, the complexity increases as new technology is introduced, which needs to be integrated to increase the product’s performance at a rapid pace. Also for complex products, the level of customization is increasing, which motivates the support of tools enabling an increase in customization.In both mass customized and complex products, the obstacles to overcome are the repetitive resource inefficient work, knowledge capture and reuse, uncoordinated processes, and a high number of iterations between departments within the company. This often boils down to the well-established so-called design paradox describing the lack of knowledge about a product and process in the early stages of design, where the design freedom is still high. As knowledge increases throughout the process, the design freedom in contrast shrinks, and the costs of changes increase exponentially. Design automation, design optimization and the use of configurators are all methods used to reduce repetitive work, increase and capture knowledge, and integrate the product development process.This thesis presents how configurators based on optimization can be used and integrated into the product development process of engineering intensive configurable products and components, such as engineer-to-order (ETO) products. Design automation and design optimization have been identified as key building blocks to extend the use of configurators. This has been done in two different application cases within two different research projects, to evaluate how these configurator systems may be modeled and utilized. The first application case concerns the automation of hose routing in vehicles and the second application case concerns spiral staircases intended for mass customization.

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