The efficient handling with product variation is an ongoing challenge for many companies. The fact, that it indeed can be handled, is proved by numerous projects of nearly 30 years while we have been working on this topic. An appropriate set of methods and tools enables to identify the really needed market requirements very clearly and to realize it with a tailor-made variety of modules, assemblies and parts within a convenient product architecture. This “custom-fit” interplay of external and internal product complexity is illustrated by the software Complexity Manager and can be optimized by many simulation examples which take into account already visible trends and possible changes within the markets of the nearby future. This enables to identify “menacing” affords early enough to initiate counteractive measures.
The software tool Complexity Manager enables to plan the product variety including variants of parts and assemblies as well as it allows the analysis of already existing variants backwards in order to clear the “waste” of the past. In case of planning it is possible to avoid investment for tooling or engineering of variants which might turn out to be unnecessary in the near future. In case of “optimizing” the past, afford of “variant administration” (operating cost of complexity) can be diminished. With consideration of the market share of options or already sold volumes, the packaging of options leads to less variants and helps to separate the “wheat from the chaff”. That makes it easier to identify variants, which should be allocated in the product configurator (“Configure to Order”, CTO) and those which will be sold as “exotics” (Engineer to Order, ETO).
For sure it is clear that not all problems can be easily solved with a software program. A clear data structure and an at least rough knowledge of the cost of complexity takes an important part in this game as well. However, the Complexity Manager is a big help to illustrate the necessary product variety and makes it possible to harvest the “low hanging fruits”. This for sure gives the motivation to all people, who have to work with the methods of variant management and this tool, to use the successful results also for other product families as well.