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Can your production handle the increasing number of product variants?

The world is changing and developing, and industrial production along with it. Behind us are the times when the manufacturing industry focused on a single product and long series. Now, almost all production has to adapt to a growing array of product variants.

Products specifically tailored to customers are here to stay, whatever the industrial sector. A pioneer in this case has been the automotive industry in particular, which allows the customer to make selections that impact the product’s content, look and other characteristics.

A similar mindset has slowly but surely spread to other industrial products. Industrial device manufacturers have long strived to provide customers with customized products. Excavators and electric motors are good examples of tailor-made products: customers can pretty much choose the features that will be added to these products in production.

This development means that fewer and fewer production plants can be based on the manufacture of a single standard product. The standard product is a disappearing resource; very few of its kind are needed in a world where products are more often than not ordered specifically. One person wants a product to be this way, another that way, the third with the whole kit and caboodle.

 

Variability built in engineering and production

The growing number of product variants tailored for individual customers impacts both engineering and production.

The manufacturer needs to know when designing the product at what stage in the production process the variation should be carried out and how. It can be carried out through mechanical or software means – or both.

Even more than the engineering process, the change affects production methods. When the number of product variants increases, existing production methods no longer adapt to the needs of a changing world in many production plants. The metamorphosis of production is becoming a necessity for businesses.

The product’s variability can take place at different stages of production. In industrial products, variability can start at the very beginning, causing it to impact the entire production process. In this case, the production line must vary at an early stage, perhaps by branching off into several different lines running side by side that do different things to the product before finally merging at the end.

Similarly, the impacts are smaller when the variation takes place at the very end of the production process. Variation carried out through software in, for instance, a smart phone is a good example: the manufactured phones are physically identical products but contain different software depending on what types of apps and services a specific operator wants to equip the phone with.

Modernizing design and production is a huge challenge for the manufacturing industry, which can be met, however, using excellent tools enabled by modern technology. With virtual modelling, different solutions can be tested, and the best results can be singled out for further development in the digital world, enabling production to continue without costly interruption.

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Iiro Aalto
Iiro Aalto
BU Director
Engineering Solutions