The flexible design methodology : a framework to encourage manufacturing companies to develop strategic platform designs
Within a globalised world (where trade crosses almost any natural boundary) the greatest need for any manufacturing company is to stay competitive. One way of achieving this with minimal effort and cost is to extend the life of a design (both the concept and embodiment) by re-using it in future products. This is called Platform Design- a long lasting "core design" is established onto which a series of derivative products are built. Whilst existing literature supports this philosophy, this thesis is focussed on the development of a systematic methodology to guide engineering designers in practically establishing a platform from one of their existing products. The new methodology comprises the following six distinct stages: 1. Market Analysis: to enable the company to identify common market sectors in which to position a Platform Design. 2. Requirement Analysis: to determine what individual customers within these sectors want from future products. 3. Function Analysis: to promote fresh inquiry into the existing products in the market place by defining and grouping their underlying functions. 4. Concept Generation: to enable divergent thinking by using guided Mind-mapping and Brainwriting tools to generate and consolidate a number of new concepts. 5. Concept Selection: to filter the many concepts generated to find those that can best form a Platform Design. 6. Platform Architecture: to display the arrangement of the platform concept and to show the interface points with unique elements. The thesis also describes a supporting industrial case study to demonstrate the methodology and to allow the testing of the research hypothesis. The case study involved two UK manufacturing companies who designed and manufactured powered wheelchairs. The methodology was used to develop an appropriate "core design" to accommodate a range of future products. Finally, the thesis contains a critical evaluation of the research through the application of five tests to the hypothesis. A framework is given for these tests together with a discussion of the evidence.