The Modular Approach

A Guide to Multidisciplinary Success

Modular approach white paperTo deliver on the promise of a modular product architecture strategy, companies need to create a number of prerequisites in organization, process and infrastructure.

The white paper takes a look at the resulting tasks form an electronic, electrical and fluid engineering perspective and presents a pragmatic solution approach.

  • When technical complexity blurs the boundaries between engineering disciplines
  • Complex modules call for an interdisciplinary engineering organization – but which discipline should take the lead?
  • Functional characterization avoids ambiguity
  • Why electronic, electrical and fluid engineering must become an equal partner in an end-to-end product development process

Machinery and industrial equipment are typically costly and therefore tightly calculated investment goods. As margins shrink because of competitive pressure, manufacturers need to keep an even closer eye on cost and profitability.

In this context it is not only macroeconomic factors – such as exchange rate fluctuation – that constitute risks and uncertainties, but the growing complexity of products also adds an element of volatility because along with technical complexity, the risks in quotation costing, engineering and production also increase.

A modular product approach, along with a product development process that is organized to support the requirements of modularity, are generally accepted methods of meeting the challenge brought by the growing complexity of products and processes. To deliver on the promise of modular product development, companies need to create a number of preconditions in terms of organization, processes and infrastructure. When technical complexity blurs the boundaries between engineering disciplines In the context of product development, modules are commonly understood to be functionally and physically discrete units that can be combined and configured into an end product through uniquely defined interfaces. One example of configuring a product from separate modules is a classic SLR camera: it consists of discrete, functionally distinct modules – such as an enclosure, flash, objectives and storage media – that can be combined in many different ways. This is because the single modules are independent of each other and precisely defined interfaces are in place. In addition, the single modules typically represent purely mechanical or optical units.

A digital compact camera, on the other hand, combines all the functional elements (capturing light, taking pictures, lighting etc.) into a single product in which the characteristic functionality is no longer implemented as a discrete mechanical component, but as a combination of electronics and software. Products of this kind, which are frequently referred to as electromechanical or mechatronic products, are characterized by an interaction of different elements which makes them difficult organize into distinctive modules.

Wherever a product can be described in its entirety within one single engineering discipline (i.e. as a mechanical, electronic or software product), modularization is reasonably straightforward. If, however, a functional entity contains elements from different disciplines, its physical uniqueness is no longer retained.

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