Leveraging Knowledge-Based Configuration for Effective Kit Validation

Lionel Grealou Engineering Leave a Comment

Image credit: http://thelegocarblog.com/

Effectively product configuration is essential to achieve mass-customisation and equally to satisfy ever more demanding customer requirements. Mass-customisation aims at satisfying the specific needs of individual customers with mass-production-like efficiency by developing and marketing configurable products. The product may consist of mechanical parts, services, and software. Product configuration is also referred as knowledge-based configuration due to the ‘intelligence‘ that is defining configuration business rules.

Product configuration is required to develop modular solutions and increase data reuse(economies of scope and scale). Configurations need to be aligned at the enterprise level and throughout the product lifecycle, with consistent compatibility rules that can enable and foster cost-effective change management. Configured product management is used by manufacturers of complex products and / or large product portfolio to define and manage configured Bills of Material (BoMs). In a nutshell, product configuration can be used to manage product variantspart / component change history and work in progress data. There are 3 aspects of configuration management: 

  1. Engineering configuration: which informs how the product is designed, the amount of carry over, the BoM and CAD related business rules, from 150% to 100% configured BoM variants
  2. Manufacturing configuration: which informs how the product is manufactured and / or assembled.
  3. Sales configuration: which informs how the product is positioned, its marketing features that directly relate to how the product is ordered by the client.

A variant BoM contains more parts and assemblies than actually needed to assemble the (final) product – the 150% of the parts. Engineering configuration is typically mastered in Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), while manufacturing and sales configuration is controlled by Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and / or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems. Sometimes, a single configuration engine is preferred for simplification – though not always achievable or cost effective.

Some of the typical challenges in defining and maintaining the product configuration include:

  • Can the product as ordered be manufactured? – to avoid having to tell the customer that his/her order cannot be fulfilled and needs amending.
  • Have all configured product kits be validated pre-production? – to avoid stock, quality, logistic issues which might cause the production line to stop, warranty or other issues.
  • Has the product structure been optimised to support EBoM-MBoM integration, aka engineering / manufacturing handshake? – to avoid data duplication and inefficiencies which will erode the business bottom line.
  • How are changes being managed and how they impact product configuration? – to avoid control and traceability issues when the product starts to be produced.
  • How is  data optimised so that configuration knowledge can be adapted continuously to reflect concurrent changing components and configuration constraints? – to avoid sub-optimal configuration development and maintenance time.
  • Where is the master configuration engine located and how is it interrogated by the different enterprise solutions for accuracy and alignment? – to avoid ‘mass-confusion’ due to the overwhelming number of permutations and combinations that need to be validated.

Configuration management is used to manage product (or service) complexity and can bring the following benefits:

  • Reduced time to market, combined with increased product portfolio robustness and velocity.
  • Increased product reliability, quality, and ultimately customer satisfaction.
  • Greater product visibility and increasing concurrent engineering and collaboration (functions working against the same goals and the same data).
  • Reduced production failure rate and down time with validated product kits, better product quality assurance and performance management.
  • Improved resource utilisation and better resource efficiency.
  • Increase product adaptability and control.

Knowledge-based configuration rules are typically made of a combination of simple to complex IF-THEN rules, compatibility / incompatibility matrices, mapping rules, BoM and system design parameters and derivation constraints, aggregation and hierarchical business rules.

What are your thoughts?


This post was originally published on LinkedIn on 5 March 2016.