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Embodiment Design:
Modular Design Benefits Including Modular Manufacturing

Essential Product Development for Engineers

Modular Design Benefits

The advantages of modular design are numerous. Some examples are listed below:

  • Minimising cost, by reducing the diversity of parts in a product range

  • Savings in design time, as assemblies/modules are simply selected like bought out parts, as their reliability, cost and quality are documented and easily available.

  • Modular products enable faster, easier and more efficient customisation of standard products to unique user needs.

  • Related to the above point, a popular version of a product can be increased to meet increased demand in a short period of time.

  • Modules can be modified or replaced without changing anything else on the product.

  • Modular design simplifies the information processing in a design project.

  • Modular design enables quick and easy upgrades (driven by either technology or user improvement), thus enabling products to evolve.

  • Modular design resists obsolescence and shortens the redesign cycle. A new generation product can reuse most of the old modules and change is provided by a few improved modules.

  • Replacement of worn parts (which can then be recycling).

  • Flexibility in use, as the way customers use products can change over time.

  • Easy and quick installation of products

  • Easy and quick servicing and maintenance of products

  • Modular design delivers shorter learning curves when new employees have to become familiar with products and the way they work.

  • Modular design gives businesses the possibility to outsource the assembly of some modules, therefore freeing-up manufacturing capacity and increasing the number of products delivered on time.

  • During design, different modules can be developed by separate groups of engineers at the same time. Designing modules/assemblies simultaneously like this (often referred to as concurrent engineering), reduces overall time-to-market for a product, therefore maximising total sales and revenue.

  • If any future problems arise with the design of a product or a periodic redesign exercise takes place, modules can be separately improved (such as for localised problems), before being reintroduced into the whole product. They do not have an impact on other assemblies, as would be the case with integral design.

  • Production facilities can be organised specifically to assemble particular modules.

Modular Design Benefits and Features - Illustrated on an Engineering Concept

Modular Manufacturing Systems

The production facilities of a business can be developed and planned at the same time as the modular design of products. It is possible to arrange an assembly area so that it meets the exact requirements necessary to manufacture the product as efficiently as possible. If the product is modular then the production area can be modular too, with dedicated cells and equipment necessary to assemble a given module. The same way the different modules come together to form the complete product, these production cells should be organised so they feed the completed assemblies to the overall product, as it comes together.

Just like your product architecture, your modular manufacturing arrangement should be regarded as flexible, offering the possibility of it be rapidly changed and customised in order to assemble similar but different products. Again this enables the exact assembly requirements of different products to be met, as well as reducing the time to market for customised and new products. A future possibility is to sub-contract the assembly together with the layout, therefore allowing suppliers to manufacture and assemble efficiently. This minimises waste and lead-times whilst freeing up space and resources.

Designing Products for Cellular Assembly from Advent Design Corporation

Keep it Simple and Clear

The key to successful Embodiment Design is clarity and attempting to keep things as simple as possible - crucial to obtaining modular design benefits. Identify separate product functions, group them into assemblies and then start considering the best way to achieve those functions. Get things written up to assist communication and clarity. Use diagrams to list how assemblies link together to form the whole. List the considerations likely to drive and guide the detail design of each of the assemblies.

Your Embodiment Design layout or diagram should be tailored to your product, to get the best modular design benefits. The complexity of the product will determine how detailed the considerations for each assembly need to be. A related consideration is the level to which you chose to ‘engineer’ the design of each assembly.

This is where Embodiment Design starts to cross into Detailed Design. Clearly there is no fixed answer, as every product differs. Indeed you could argue it is not hugely important. As long as the Embodiment Design for the whole product is completed and parts of the Detailed Design do not race ahead, this should be OK (unless this is intended for a particular reason, such as a known long development lead-time for a specific assembly).

Review Considerations

The other significant consideration is to ensure there are adequate review points during development where design work can be scrutinised and key decisions taken. Also during review, the integration of the different assemblies or modules should be considered. Are they all still compatible? Do we need to further consider how they all link together?

 Taken together, do all the modules still achieve the overall objectives identified and agreed in the specification and at the end of the Concept Design stage? Use the expertise of the cross-functional team to drive the Embodiment Design process, ensuring different disciplines are taken into account throughout and especially during review.

Modular Design Benefits

Next... Detail Design: Intro, CAD Engineering, Tolerances and Fits, Materials and Manufacturing Process

Back to Product Development Essentials 

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