Majority of companies develop a family of products and many new product variations are added to the product portfolio regularly to meet changing market needs and/or to attract new customer base. Although, the core functionality remains essentially unchanged across all products within a family, new functions, new feature combinations and new technologies are incorporated into each new product. The component variations, commonly referred to as “complexity”, grow exponentially resulting in loss of productivity and/or quality. The challenge lies in effective management of product variations in the design studies and on the manufacturing floor. The key is to minimize non-value added variations across models within a product family without limiting customer choices. Although the benefits of standardization are widely known and most companies do standardize stock components such as fasteners, they are far from standardizing their product -specific core components and thus fail to reap significant benefits in quality and cost. Through this research, we are developing new methodologies for improved management of product variety to achieve higher productivity.

In this paper, we discuss the factors that contribute to product complexity in general, and present an objective measure, called the Product Line Commonality Index, to capture the level of part commonality in a product family. Through our Walkman case study, we illustrate robust design/manufacturing strategies, including modularity and postponement of product differentiation, that help minimize non-value added variation across models within a product family1 without limiting customer choices. Finally, we present a simple and yet a powerful method of benchmarking product families or companies in their ability to share parts effectively (modularity) and reduce the total number of parts (multi-functionality) used in product families.

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