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Conceptual Structural Features of Modular Product Platforms

[+] Author Affiliations
Günther Schuh, Michael Riesener, Sebastian Barg, Sebastian Schloesser

Laboratory for Machine Tools and Production Engineering, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany

Paper No. DETC2016-59136, pp. V007T06A028; 12 pages
  • ASME 2016 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference
  • Volume 7: 28th International Conference on Design Theory and Methodology
  • Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, August 21–24, 2016
  • Conference Sponsors: Design Engineering Division, Computers and Information in Engineering Division
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-5019-0
  • Copyright © 2016 by ASME


Many companies are facing the challenge to extend their degree of external product differentiation whilst reducing internal complexity and costs due to increased economies of scale. Therefore, companies often develop modular product platforms. Initially, they were applied by the automotive industry but since have been exploited to various other industries, e.g. machinery and plant engineering. Based on a modular product platform a number of product variants and product generations can be efficiently derived. However, a simple transfer of the automotive approach to other cases of application is more likely to miss the full potential as well as the targets of a modular product platform. Taking into consideration that a company-specific platform concept is dependent on the influences of the environment the company interacts with, there is no universally applicable solution when it comes to modular product platforms. Hence, modular product platform concepts in industrial practice vary depending on the exogenous circumstances and individually targeted benefits, pursued by the initiative. However, at a certain level of abstraction, modular platform concepts, regardless of individual circumstances or targets, remain comparable through features describing the conceptual structuring. Therefore, the conceptual design of a modular product platform can be described by generally valid and discrete Conceptual Structural Features. From a development perspective, these features and their respective characteristics represent the conceptual design options addressing a company’s individual circumstances and targets. From a retrospective point of view, the features and their respective characteristics can equally be employed to compare existing modular product platform concepts across a vast range of industries and applications with respect to the individual target system.

In this paper, seven essential Conceptual Structural Features and associated characteristics are identified. After defining the relevant terminology and reviewing adjacent fields of research, this paper focuses on a broad literature review in the field of Conceptual Structural Features of modular product platforms. A trinomial approach is used to extract the variety of different Conceptual Structural Features. In addition to the derivation of these features from different conceptual approaches for the development of a modular product platform, features of procedure induced design as well as classifying features are identified as relevant Conceptual Structural Features. Companies that configure the identified Conceptual Structural Features concerning their exogenous circumstances and individually targeted benefits are more likely to increase their level of target achievement.

After the identification of Conceptual Structural Features, future research focuses on the development of a method for a context and target compliant development of a modular product platform structuring concept. Hence, companies are enabled to proactively configure the identified Conceptual Structural Features during the early development stage according to the individual platform target system as well as to the exogenous circumstances. Moreover, the results of this paper facilitate a cross-industry discussion on a comparable basis in the form of the identified Conceptual Structural Features among companies applying a modular product platform approach.

Copyright © 2016 by ASME



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