As manufacturers are forced by today’s marketplace to provide nearly customized products to satisfy individual customer requirements and simultaneously achieve economies of scale during production, product family design and platform-based product development have garnered their attention. Determining which elements (attributes, functions, components, etc.) should be made common, variable, or unique, across a product family is the critical step in the successful implementation of product families and product platforms. Therefore, the inherent challenge in product family design is to balance the tradeoff between product commonality (how well the components and functions can be reused across a product family) and variety (the range of different products in a product family). There are opportunities to develop tools to directly aid in addressing the commonality/variety tradeoff at the product family planning stage in a way that supports the engineering design process. In this paper, we develop a matrix-based, qualitative design tool – the Attribute-Based Clustering Methodology (ABCM) that enables the design of product families to better satisfy the ideal commonality/variety tradeoff as determined by a company’s competitive focus. The ABCM is used to identify component commonality opportunities in product families without sacrificing product variety by analyzing product attributes across the product family. This paper focuses on the ABCM as used in new product family design and how the ABCM can be used to cluster product attributes into potential modules and product platforms. It is intended as a starting place, an opening set of questions, and as a framework for the general solution to the problem of a qualitative design tool for product family design that directly address the commonality/variety tradeoff. Development of the ABCM starts with the classification of existing product attributes into three categories: common, unique, and variable. The attributes are then clustered into platforms and differentiating modules based on their occurrences, target value ranges (partitioning the target values for each product attribute into achievable ranges), and the manner in which the range changes across the entire target market segments. The ABCM can be used as a qualitative guideline in product family design. In new product family design, it can be used to identify which elements (functions and components) should be clustered into a common platform and which should be clustered into differentiating modules based on an analysis of the product attributes, their occurrences, and their target values across the product family. In product family redesign, the ABCM can be used to identify any elements that are inappropriately included in a platform or inappropriately clustered into differentiating modules by comparing the ideal clustering with the actual clustering.

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