Product Modularization - Coordination in the design/Manufacturing Interface

University dissertation from Chalmers University of Technology

Abstract: The product modularization concept has developed in different directions, since its breakthrough in the nineties. This being mainly a means to structure and divide a product into manageable units, attributes such as ‘customization tool’, ‘product development organizer’ and ‘sustainable upgrader’ characterizes the concept’s scope. The ‘embedded coordination’ associated with product modules enhances outsourcing of manufacturing, and this thesis investigates the long-term influence from such external manufacturing on the organizational interface between one’s own product design and manufacturing. Furthermore, in-depth case studies in two Swedish multinational companies, presented in four different papers, have resulted in several findings both adding to theory and bringing implications for practitioners. Here, a useful tool set of coordination mechanisms for the investigated interface is identified, which ought to be handled with care, and adaption to the situational dynamics different modularized products’ properties bring. It can be concluded that whether or not manufacturing is located close to the design unit it will affect the character of the improvement work. The need for coordination increases the greater the distance and the focus of the improvement work tends to shift from small-steps improvement to redesign issues according to claims from customers and suppliers. The geographical distance does make a difference, but could be handled by different means. External manufacturing of product modules can cause knowledge problems, and difficulties in improving products and processes because the distance between design and manufacturing may lead to the product development engineers having less direct contact with the product modules. Therefore, even if this could be balanced by dedicated persons emanating from the design function working cross-functionally, an alternative is to keep some manufacturing internally, as it is important not to lose the required long-term manufacturing skills. This aspect is vital to take into consideration as early as possible when implementing a sourcing strategy. Keywords: Product modularization, Design-Manufacturing interface, Coordination mechanisms