Technology Platforms: Organizing and Assessing Technological Knowledge to Support its Reuse in New Applications

University dissertation from Chalmers University of Technology

Abstract: Companies that develop a wide range of products often strive to exploit opportunities for synergy among them. Many products that cannot share components can still offer opportunities for synergy as they build upon the same technologies and know-how for their development and production. ‘Technology platforms’ is an approach focused on how to systematically leverage technologies across different applications, but prior research has mainly treated it as a business strategy, without providing support for the engineering work required to realize it. This thesis explores how a technology platform approach can be realized with methods and tools at the engineering level by seeking to answer three research questions: (1) what barriers exist to effective technology reuse, (2) how to organize technological knowledge, and (3) how to assess feasibility of a planned case of technology reuse. Three main research methods were used to answer these questions. Firstly by interviews with managers and engineers at a case company that operates in the aircraft engine industry, secondly by reinterpretation of existing literature into the field of technology reuse, and thirdly by the development of methods and tools for engineers. The findings related to the first research question suggest two important barriers to efficient reuse of technologies at the engineering level; the difficulties of creating, locating, transferring and deploying reusable knowledge from previous development, and the need for adapting technologies before introducing them in new applications. Two types of support for organizing technological knowledge are proposed as answers to the second research question. The first is to represent technological knowledge in a digital ‘technology catalog’ to increase awareness about existing technological capabilities within a company and provide a starting point for finding detailed knowledge. The catalog would feature pages of basic knowledge about technologies and provide links to detailed reports and contact information to relevant experts. The second proposed means is to model technologies in a relational database with specific fields for the design parameters and conditions they support, as well as their relations to other technologies and systems. This method supports a development methodology referred to as a ‘technology-based configurable platform approach’ that automates the generation and analysis of design concepts based on platform models. Technological knowledge modeled in the database would be used as boundary conditions for the configurator software to ensure that generated concepts are valid. In response to the third research question, an assessment methodology referred to as ‘TERA’, TEchnology Reuse Assessment, is proposed to support the identification of potential challenges of reusing technologies in new applications. The methodology features a scorecard that probes factors found in previous research to be inhibiting or supporting of technology transfer and reuse. The proposed methods and tools have so far only been subjected to initial tests at the case company, and although they show great promise, further tests will be required to validate their usefulness.

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