Adaptive Product Modules for Mass Customization: Lessons from Vehicular Architecture development

July 3, 2006


Ryan C.C. Chin, Patrik Künzler


Developing adaptable and flexible product architectures provides for meaningful levels of cosmetic, electronic, ergonomic, structural, and material customization. Today, automobiles are the result of intricate supply chains, integrated manufacturing techniques and just-in-time manufacture of component modules. While these changes have compensated for increased complexity and sophistication at component and system levels, the automotive industry has relied on vehicle platforms to create vehicle family lines that reduce engineering costs, yet limit radical changes and high levels of customization. The challenge of designing successful mass customized products is balancing product variety and adaptability. To achieve this, the Smart Cities group of the MIT Media Lab in collaboration with General Motors has developed a new vehicle architecture consisting of two primary elements: 1) self-contained, digitally controlled “Wheel Robots,” which incorporate all drivetrain elements and, 2) a highly customizable passenger cabin and chassis. This paper is divided into three sections consisting of 1) a study of the relationship between adaptability and variety, 2) the role adaptability plays in different stages of the product lifecycle, and 3) the creation of a comparative map of mass customized products. Using these metrics we will illustrate how Wheel Robots are designed for highly adaptive use while also exhibiting high variety.

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