Friday, January 18, 2008

Modularity 101

"Don't re-invent the wheel."

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

"Go with what you know."

There's a myriad of ways to express the idea, but the heart and soul behind the idea is the same in certain industries such as automotive manufacturing and aircraft where a manufacturer plans to produce, sell and service several different product lines:


The American Heritage Dictionary defines a modular object as something "designed with standardized units or dimensions, as for easy assembly and repair or flexible arrangement and use.

In my experience, when it comes to manufacturing, particularly automotive manufacturing it can't be stated any better. Whether it was during my time at GE (in the Aircraft Engines division) using standardized turbine blades, electrical systems, or coolant lines across different platforms; or my time at Factory Five Racing using the same fasteners, instruments, or fuel lines from cars as different as the MK III Roadster (a replica of the famous Shelby Cobra from the 1960's)and the GTM Supercar (a modern supercar totally of our own design), modularity is fundamental in all aspects, whether the two models are marketed to two totally different demographics, the same demographic, or consumers of slightly different markets.

A modular design does several things for a manufacturer when introducing a new model:

- Limit SKU creep (Less time setting up infrastructure, more efficient use of manufacturing facility space, and overall limited burden on materials management)...

- Make repairs quickly and easily (let's face it, people are going to use these vehicles for what they are meant for - high performance on/off road driving - and sometimes parts will need to be replaced so why not make it easier for both the manufacturer and the customer so everyone wins and everyone is happy.)...

- More efficient design cycle (less time designing, sourcing and testing new parts, more time delivering product and service that the customer wants and deserves)...

- Get to market quickly...

Just to name a few.

In the case of autos manufactured by both Local Motors and Factory Five Racing, the customer is either assembling the car partially, or totally on his own, respectively. Therefore, making the cars modular makes it easy for the manufacturer and customer alike to produce each model, train the staff on the make-up of each model, explain to the customer how to build each model, and how to service each model. When it comes time for the customer to lay down his or her hard earned money, this is where modularity really counts, and is precisely what Local Motors will deliver to each customer - not just a car, but an entire experience designed with them in mind for before, during and after the sale.

An example of a great use of modularity outside of my personal experiences is the newly introduced Audi R8 Diesel (yes, DIESEL!). Using an engine derived from their V12 engine used in the R10 which won the historic 24 hours at Le Mans, mated to the Lamborghini Gallardo platform Audi produced a stunningly styled street car with a ferocious 500 hp and (are you sitting down?) 737 lb-ft of torque!!

Of course this isn't too much of a stretch performance wise and stylistically from the Gallardo, but since it incorporates diesel technology (it gets 24 mpg), it just may bring some supercar enthusiasts over to the "green" side.

For these reasons, we will maintain the principle of modularity as a cornerstone of all designs as we continue to grow our product base.


Yellow Blade said...

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Duong Qua said...

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