Product modularity: Definitions and benefits

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The present paper presents an overview of existing research on the definition of modular product design and its benefits. Modularity has been discussed in terms of product development for quite some time. In recent years, the discussions have increased. The development of metrics and methods has also increased. However, these metrics and methods are often based on different definitions and varying goals. Understanding what modularity is and why it is useful is the foundation of modular product design. The purpose of this paper is to examine the existing literature and draw conclusions about where consensus exists and areas for further discussion. The relationship to product platform planning is also shown. This overview shows that there is a clear consensus on the point of independence of form and function. Within this definition, there is a strong pressure to extend modularity beyond form-function concerns and out across the life-cycle. Additionally, there is pressure to look at similarity or compatibility within modules in addition to independence. The benefits of modular design are widely advocated. When taken across a product family, many are quite intuitive. There has been no work to show these benefits in the modularity of singular products over their design life. It is hoped that this research will highlight the present inconsistencies in the field of modular product design and put forward some critical questions, which will shape future research into this field.

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Journal of Engineering Design