Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Modularity in Product Design and Supply Chain

Modularity in Product Design

I was a product designer for 4 years. Product design process is often initiated from a need of customers or potential needs of social progression. Designers’ top concern is often how to meet the needs by designing a product as a whole. Following that, their questions are: Is the design cost effective? Is the design attractive enough? Is it easy for manufacturing? Is it different from other products on market? Last but not least, can it be accepted by the contractor? All those questions are very important for product designers because they are the basic concerns for product development.

Modularity, however, imposes a higher level of concern to product designers. Designing a well-functioning piece of work itself is a hard challenge, not to mention designing a handful of individual pieces of well-functioning parts and let them work together well as a whole.

Modularity in product design is difficult, but it is very useful. It brings customers as a part of design circle. If brings the bases of customization of products to consumers. It creates more flexibility in manufacturing and distribution process.

On the other hand, it requires highly innovative minds and deep understanding in design, manufacturing, supply chain, user interaction and customer behaviors and so on.

The designs are primarily done by product design companies, or design department, which are disconnected with supply chain, how to integrate the whole process.

Modularity in Supply Chain

Modularity in supply chain is a common practice, most products are assembled by multiple parts provided by different providers or subcontractors. Those parts are shipped to a central factory for process and then shipped out as finished goods. But in the Tata’s case, if the modules don’t have to be assembled in a centralized factory, then modularity is changing the traditional supply chain. Different modules can be shipped directly to customers for assembly or to satellite assemblers.

This practice to a large degree increased the flexibility and reduced the shipping cost of the supply chain, but, If the modules are assembled by customer themselves, how to ensure the quality of the overall products?

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