Product Configuration System: A Product Configuration Solution to Mass Customization for Large-sized Engineering Companies

Document Type



Dr. Yonglei Tao, taoy@gvsu.edu

Embargo Period



The U.S. recessions of the early 1980's and the early 1990's, not to mention recessions in other countries, inspired scholars and company leaders to adopt a new approach called mass customization. Some adopters succeeded and others failed. A decade later, we are going through another recession. With the more advanced technologies and lessons learned from the pioneers of this approach, it makes sense for highly-customized engineering companies to revisit the mass customization strategy for product configuration systems. This will enable the firms to capitalize on the reuse philosophy in order to survive and strive in a difficult market.

There are many commercial enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems for product configuration, in particular for electrical and mechanical component managements. However, these ERP product configuration systems often are expensive to acquire, customize, and maintain. An in-house custom-built product configuration system utilizing open-source code and freeware may be the answer for the companies that are eager to cut down the budget and make their products more profitable. In addition, a custom program that takes advantage of the flexibility, efficiency, and platform independent features of Java, J2EE, XML, SVG and Java 2D Graphics adds the potential reuse and extendible functions to accommodate future requirements of incorporating other applications to become a complete product configuration package.

This project discusses the current problems with product configuration that large-sized engineering companies specializing in customized products have encountered, the mass customization theory, and how a custom product configuration system can make mass customization work for these large-sized engineering companies with continuous process enhancements. An overall concept of the product configuration system for a large-sized engineering company is introduced with a preliminary framework of the product configuration system for hardware design development. Two initial attempts to automate the product configuration process in the early stage allow the users to design the configuration tree via a graphical user interface for dynamically inputting/editing XML that represents sub assemblies, and elements of the total product. A SVG viewer is utilized to display a 2D hierarchical block diagram of the XML structure. The production configuration tree can be shared with the product team members across disciplines/sites on the web. It provides an efficient way to communicate among the design team members. The proposed solution will bring benefits in time savings, process control and cost reduction by enabling design reuse.

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