Managing Product Complexity

Complexity is a byproduct of increased product variability. Over several decades product variability has grown exponentially due to market demands, technical complexity, corporate strategy, product/process variety, consumer demand, financial constraints and competition pressure. Product configurator software plays a vital role for managing product complexity within your company.

We’ve been digging into a variety of bill of materials management topics, lately focusing on configurator software for total variability management. I’ve asked my colleague, Sanjay Kulkarni, to continue that discussion with an exploration of how you can leverage a single configurator backbone for managing product complexity.

If we look at the journey of the industrial revolution from 1.0 to 4.0 we can see that our products are becoming more are more complex. I had used an example of a garage door opener in PLM Connection 2016 and decided to stay with the same example for sake of continuity. In ancient times, during the first industrial revolution, large castle doors were operated using mechanical systems that were operated by humans, and later water power was used. Then came the second industrial revolution where we got electrical power and motor-operated systems were used. During the third industrial revolution, there was an invention of radio signals that enabled us to open the garage doors remotely without getting out of the car. And now we are in the fourth industrial revolution with the Internet of Things (IoT) where now one can operate the same garage door with a smartphone.

Consumers are satisfied (for the moment) but manufacturers are inundated with complexity. Also, government regulation and competition have led to additional complexity such as safety sensors, a cooling fan, alert systems, power adapters, and park assist, to name a few.

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 Although all complex drivers contribute towards the overall corporate goals, these drivers are not necessarily in harmony with each other. As an example, on one side, corporate marketing strategy demands innovation and that leads to new products and features, on the other side there are financial constraints that demand reuse/commonality. Further complex products are usually developed across multiple domains and organizational boundaries lead to information exchange challenges. Technical complexity leads to process variation and that leads to challenges with government regulations, adherence to product requirements, and deliver the highest quality product. Many corporations have processes to introduce a new feature, modify a feature, replace engineering solutions for feature, and obsoleting a feature. Manual methods are not feasible and automation tools are necessary for managing product complexity, as there are multiple impacting drivers.

Let us take an example of a new feature introduction. Market demands a new feature for park assist and the manufacturer needs to make a decision whether or not they should add this new feature to the portfolio.

Several complexity drivers need to be evaluated before making a decision to go forward. For example, the cost of developing a new feature versus anticipated profits, impact on market position, time to market, govt. regulations, technical requirements, core competency, manufacturing, supplier, service requirements, etc.

How many product variants to offer to the customer and the choice for alternate features leads to increased complexity. This is a critical decision for made-to-stock product manufacturers. For made-to-stock products, multiple product variants may mean increased inventories at distribution network and points-of-sale.

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 Once a decision is made to develop the feature, then it is important to identify all applicable requirements associated with the feature and ensure that requirements are satisfied by providing several local solutions or a generic solution. 

 In order to manage complexity, you can start with key dimensions of product variety, change, and multi-domain product development. Of course, there are other dimensions that you can consider once the foundation is built. Enterprise change management should account for the cross-domain impact of changes. Product variety can be managed using a Product Configurator. A common architecture with flexibility to carry out multi-domain product development with the ability to identify specific features is the most essential foundation block. This helps reduce complexity by keeping the focus on features that are relevant to a module. This sub-set of variability can then be used to check the validity of constraints and completeness of solutions.

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It must be possible to run validations across domain boundaries. Further, a comprehensive impact analysis across domains is essential to improve decisions while making changes to the product. 

By leveraging product configuration capabilities in Teamcenter, customers can overcome many of these challenges. Teamcenter supports the notion of architecture and serves as a single variant backbone across the product suite.

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 With guided product configuration, you can validate domain configuration models and also analyze product variants by running simulations across multiple domains. Further, you can manage product lines, product models, and saved configurations for tracking vehicles/customer orders and apply the same while performing systems engineering work, design content development, etc.

We continue to strive to make managing product complexity easier for you. As our product configuration capabilities continue to evolve, we will keep you informed on the improvements we’re making to benefit you, while managing feature, configuration models, and applications in systems engineering, design, BOM, manufacturing, and product planning.

About the Author: A product manager at Siemens PLM Software for Teamcenter, Sanjay Kulkarni has over 22 years of experience in Configuration Management, Six Sigma, Product development, and management.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at https://blogs.sw.siemens.com/teamcenter/managing-product-complexity/