Transitioning towards modular system development

  • Markus Heilemann

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Modular product architectures play a key role for profitable product life cycles in a wide variety of industries. However, engineering design research to date has tended to focus on the issues and the approaches associated with establishing modular product architectures on new products and systems. Little research has been undertaken on the overall issue of what will be referred to as “modularisation transition”. It is thus the main aim of this work to identify and test issues and factors associated with support for transitioning from single product development towards development of modular systems. Based on these findings, it is proposed to develop understanding and engineering design support for the transition.The research is based on a multi-faceted longitudinal case study with the involvement of a primary case company and 27 complementary secondary cases from different industries in eight countries. The research was conducted during an overall period of five years and included research methods such as a participant observer approach for generating a deep understanding and an action-based interventionist approach for developing support.One of the main issues that the case companies encountered during transitioning has been identified to be development projects not adhering to the common modular reference architecture during later phases of the modular system life cycle. Hence, the modular system is constantly in danger of losing what can be thought of as its stability because the architectures of products diverge. An evaluation has shown that there is only scarce pre-existing support for industry during these later phases. Thus, a modularisation support framework with focus on stability was created as guidance to develop new support.As part of the support framework, a modularisation assessment framework has been developed. It is the aim of the assessment framework to ensure that important factors for the stability of the modular system are in place throughout the entire development life cycle. Further to this, modularisation metrics are presented. It is the purpose of the metrics to assess adherence of derivative products to the specifications of the common modular system architecture. Subsequently an approach for the provision of product architecture in-formation in standard IT-systems has been developed. This approach aims at improving transparency about the modular system, for instance to protect the architecture from diverging and to enable efficient assessments. All deliverables of this thesis have been validated in a variety of ways in a variety of industrial settings.It is suggested that this thesis unprecedentedly highlights the importance of stability for modular system development, particularly during later phases. This is seen as new and vital understanding to make transitioning a successful undertaking. Therefore, the thesis presents novel and compressed insights about issues and support throughout the whole development life cycle. Moreover, an innovative set of support for stability during later phases of the life cycle is provided. This helps companies to avoid costly setbacks during transitioning and to achieve their modularisation goals more efficiently and sustainably.
Date of Award30 Jun 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorStephen Culley (Supervisor)

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