Harnessing Product Complexity: An Integrative Approach

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Virginia Tech


In today's market, companies are faced with pressure to increase variety in product offerings. While increasing variety can help increase market share and sales growth, the costs of doing so can be significant. Ultimately, variety causes complexity in products and processes to soar, which negatively impacts product development, quality, production scheduling, efficiency and more. Product variety is just one common cause of product complexity, a topic that several researchers have tackled with several sources of product complexity now identified. However, even with such progress, product complexity continues to be a theoretical concept, making it difficult for companies to fully implement advances and fully manage product complexity.

More and more companies are relying on product family design to handle product variety. Broadly, a product family can be defined as a group of products sharing common elements. The advantages for companies using product family strategies can be significant: they enable efficient derivation of product variants, reduce inventory and handling costs, as well as setup and retooling time. The design challenge however, is to select the product platform to generate a variety of products with minimum deviation from individual requirements. Accordingly, the structure of product families makes designing and evaluating them a challenging process. In order to fully embrace the relationships between variety, product complexity, and product families an understanding of product complexity causes and impacts is essential.

This research begins by introducing four main dimensions of product complexity within the context of a generalized definition. Product complexity indicators suitable in product design, development and production are derived. By establishing measurements for the identified indicators and using clustering techniques, a complexity evaluation approach for product family designs is also developed in this research. The evaluation approach is also applied on a component basis, to identify Critical Components that are main sources and contributors of complexity within product families. By standardizing identified Critical Components, product complexity levels and associated costs can be managed. A case application of three product families from a tire manufacturing company is used to verify that this research approach is suitable for evaluating and managing product complexity in product families.



Product Variety Management, Grey Clustering, Non-assembled Products, Product Platform, Product Family, Product Complexity