Research suggests modular design competence can benefit new product development A new research study suggests that supplier integration into the new product development process can be more beneficial if buyers increase their competency in modular design.

Penn State Smeal College of Business faculty member Veronica H. Villena and her colleague Fabrizio Salvador of the IE Business School in Madrid examined the ways modular design competence can mitigate costs and challenges associated with supplier integration while making best use of the benefits. They also reveal that such benefits are limited when the buyer is pursuing high levels of product innovation.

Supplier integration refers to a supplier providing information and participating in decision-making during the development of new products and processes. Modular design refers to conceiving of products in terms of modules that can be modified without changing an overall product design.

By integrating suppliers into the new product design process, manufacturers can tap into supplier expertise and knowledge, share risk, cut manufacturing costs and improve technical performance.

The researchers concluded that modular design competence "makes design iterations less frequent, thereby curtailing buyer-supplier negotiations regarding the cost, timing and quality requirements of engineering changes associated with such iterations."

However, supplier integration has challenges and drawbacks as well. It requires technical and managerial resources, there is a high level of design and technical interdependence and communication channels become more complex.

"We argue that the interdependence of the design activities allocated to different suppliers creates diseconomies that detract from the technical performance and add to the manufacturing cost of the new product being designed," the researchers wrote in an article that recently appeared in the Journal of Supply Chain Management.

To mitigate these diseconomies, Villena and Salvador propose that buyers incorporate the design of modular products as much as possible without hampering innovation. Modular product competency, they said, will allow for more efficient integration of suppliers.

In their study, Villena and Salvador found benefits to modular design competence that include decreased manufacturing costs and improved technical performance through, for example, a decreased number of design iterations.

Article source:
Image source: