Contributions to the discipline of visual product platform modelling
This PhD thesis has the title Product Platform Modelling. The thesis is about product platforms and visual product platform modelling. Product platforms have gained an increasing attention in industry and academia in the past decade. The reasons are many, yet the increasing globalisation and the change in the global economy seem to be major factors. Manufacturing companies have experienced an intensifying competition and many companies face increasing demands for reductions in costs and lead times in development and production. At the same time many customers have raised their demands for customisation of products. In many companies these changes in the business environment have created a controversy between the need for a wide variety of products offered to the marketplace and a desire to reduce variation within the company in order to increase efficiency. Many companies use the concept of product platforms to overcome this challenge of balancing the external and internal performance demands. Product platforms are found in many different instantiations in various industries and companies, and the concepts and challenges are likewise diverse. This PhD thesis documents a research project with two main purposes; First, various phenomena related to product platforms are investigated and secondly it is investigated how some of these phenomena can be visually modelled in order to support decision making in industrial platform projects. The investigation of platform phenomena is based on the notion that reuse and encapsulation of platform elements are fundamental characteristics of a product platform. Reuse covers the desire to reuse and share certain assets across a family of products and/or across generations of products. Product design solutions and principles are often regarded as important assets in a product platform, yet activities, working patterns, processes and knowledge can also be reused in a platform approach. Encapsulation is seen as a process in which the different elements of a platform are grouped into well defined and self-contained units which are decoupled from each other. These groups can be varied and combined to form different product variants without increasing the internal variety in the company. Based on the Theory of Domains, the concept of encapsulation in the organ domain is introduced, and organs are formulated as platform elements. Included in this introduction is a discussion of the dispositional effects of organ and wirk element encapsulation. Unlike most present perceptions of platforms and modularity, the concept of organ encapsulation makes it possible to describe the system characteristics of a product platform in which reuse and encapsulation effects are obtained without necessarily introducing standardised physical interfaces between the varying elements. By means of three industrial cases, in the companies Danfoss, Grundfos and Aker Solutions, it is discussed and exemplified how some of the phenomena and effects related to reuse and encapsulation can be visually modelled during product platform projects. A fundamental hypothesis in this project is that decision makers and important stakeholders have to be able to see the platform in order to manage it. Consequently, the thesis also investigates how visual models of important phenomena can support decision makers during a product platform project. The reaction from stakeholders in the case companies indicates that the decision base is improved by means of visual models. Another finding is that the sometimes rather theoretical and intangible phenomena can be instantiated in models and thereby made tangible and visual for decision makers and designers in the organisation.