“How to make mass-customized products into a competitive edge in the digital era”.
Customers are demanding more complex, individual products.
The Internet has changed many facets of life, including how we, as consumers, find and purchase almost everything. The customer-centric focus and the associated personalized experience that the Internet can provide isn’t only for individual consumers, but also for corporate buyers of industrial goods and other highly complex and configurable systems.
In the past, the answer to managing complex configurability was to make the product simpler, but this is no longer an option.
To differentiate and gain competitive advantages, companies need to be able to quickly and efficiently configure their product to meet their customers’ needs without having to reengineer each and every variation.
For many companies, this requires that they know not only what configurations were delivered, but also the specific configuration of each as-maintained product (the so-called digital twin) so that they can deliver tailored customer service throughout the life of the given product.
Challenges in R&D, Sales, Production and Aftersales
Unfortunately, often with increased product configurability comes increased complexity, and all of its resulting costs and inefficiencies. For most companies, this poses a set of significant challenges.
Their products aren’t designed to be configurable, their systems are disconnected and not designed to support lifecycle configurability, and end-to-end lifecycle product ownership doesn’t exist.
In sales, making quotations takes too long time and the sales people need extensive training and experience to be able to specify the product. Getting drawings and other technical documents from the engineering is often the bottle-neck, why customers have to wait for a quotation.
And when you get an order the engineering department starts to manually make documents for the production, because the product hasn’t been made into a product model, when it was developed.
Problems aren’t over even after the product has been delivered. It is very common that aftersales cannot find the data, what type of product individual has been sent to each customer. Detailed, as built specifications can’t be found from the company data base, because different departments use systems which are not talking to each other. And after a service call, the changed part is not documented into a system data base.
How to manage a configurable product
The only way these challenges will be overcome is by embracing the digital transformation of the end-to-end lifecycle configuration process and its associated roles and responsibilities.
Companies that want to thrive in today’s rapidly evolving, highly configurable product market need a new and more efficient approach, applying configurability to the design, sales, production, delivery, and maintenance of their products. You need to engage in a new business model that focuses on configure-to-order and not build-to-stock and engineer your products and the processes that support them to be highly configurable. i.e. you need solutions that provide direct support for your business model and are used to support the full digitalization of your sales and delivery process.
The key to managing a configurable product is that it needs to be designed to be configurable.
“Configurable products” are predesigned variations of products, with an allowed range of order-specific design variations that enable customers to order products, which have been tailored to their specific needs.
Many companies can engineer-to-order a product, but that doesn’t make the product truly configurable and the cost is too high. The more competitive way for the company is to plan, in advance, all the possible ways and allowed ranges for product variation.
To support this, you need a comprehensive set of product data management (PDM) tools that can be used to design and manage a product’s end-to-end lifecycle from as-planned through as-maintained variations (i.e., all lifecycle configurations of a product). These tools are for defining and managing the sales model and the product family structure, supported by a platform for product data and configuration model management. These solutions need to support requirements management, product data management, sales and production configuration processes, as well as installed base and service support management.
A customer-centric offering is also needed, a one that is defined and managed from end-to-end in a manner that enables faster product launches, the highest level of order-to-deliver accuracy, and tailored services that proactively evolves as required. This means that you need to configure your entire customer offering (i.e., software, hardware, and services). These are configured offerings that support the entire lifecycle of the client’s products and services.
All the above means that you need a system that enables you:
- to offer innovative and tailored solutions
- to manage the selection of product families, product configurations, etc.
- to automatically create production configurations and generate production documentation, etc.
- to trace both development and delivery processes
resulting in a seamless digital flow of the order-to-delivery process.
The ideal to achieve this would be to use a solutions provider who has designed a complete integrated platform that includes all the needed components: Product data management (PDM), sales tool (CPQ), production configurator, product individual tracing tool, and other complimentary solutions to facilitate end-to-end product lifecycle management. i.e. an advanced solutions platform from a competent supplier who can also be your strategic technology partner.
Successful companies have three things in common:
- they have realized that they had to design configurable products;
- they have realized that they had to have an end-to-end lifecycle mindset; and
- they have realized that they needed a platform and partner that supported 1) and 2).
Variantum offers a truly integrated system platform with a state-of-the-art modelling capability, enabling significant improvements in the time-to-market and order-to-delivery processes. It forms the business-critical core of a company’s product life cycle management.
Timo Heinonen, Marketing manager, Variantum Oy