Product Architecture

What is Product Architecture?

Product architecture relates to how a system’s or product’s function is organized into physical parts or components. It is the chunking or organization of functional elements as well as how these interact. In simpler terms, it is also described as the “strategy of mapping the function to form.”

Professor Karl T. Ulrich, a thought leader in innovation, and product design, describes product architecture as the “scheme by which the function of a product is allocated to physical components.” There are four fundamental steps involved in this design:

  1. Creation of a product’s schematic
  2. Clustering of the schematic’s elements
  3. Drafting of a geometric layout
  4. Identification of fundamental and incidental interactions

This scheme has two types, namely: modular product architecture and integral product architecture.

Modular Product Architecture

The modular approach to product architecture begins with the identification of particular operations or functions that are necessary to achieve the overall objective of a product. You then develop assemblies or modules that help to carry out these operations. These modules are later combined to form the whole product that performs a specific function.

In modular product architecture, assemblies are viewed as individual, distinct components. They have set interfaces with one another. Their interaction leads to the achievement of a product’s purpose. This design offers the benefits of economies of scale. It makes it possible to buy parts of assembles in large numbers, thereby driving down cost. PCs are a good example of this type of product architecture.

Modular design simplifies task allocation and enables outsourcing. It also offers the advantages of mass customization and standardization (or reuse) for future products. Compatibility and interfaces that drive interactions between modules are among the considerations critical for success with the modular design.

Integral Product Architecture

Compared to the modular design, this arrangement entails a less-structured approach to product architecture. Physical elements share functions in integral architectural design.

Put differently, the functions of a product are carried out by an assortment of parts. These aren’t always organized in assemblies or modules, unlike what obtains in modular design.

Integral product architecture makes it easier to hone the system by reworking or fine-tuning components. However, the constituent parts are usually less interchangeable, compared to modular architecture. This format can be more costly to use because a change to a component can impact several others nearby. Also, part sourcing may be difficult or further increase costs.

Product Architecture in the Development Process

Product architecture is in particular significant to an organization’s research and development (R & D) task. R & D steer decisions especially early in the innovation process.

This scheme plays a critical role in the design, development, and maintenance of the system. And seeing its importance to product design and building, it is vital to decide early in the development process what the focus will be. Settle on the role and team activities that will matter to architecture.

The type of architectural design that you choose will influence how much money you’d need to achieve the overall product function. This influences costs of part sourcing, maintenance, and servicing, among others.

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