Flexibility : design for evolution
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Contemporary products need to evolve to accommodate competitive market pressures, rapid technological change and transient and multi-dimensional customer requirements. Product flexibility is defined as the adaptability of a system in response to these factors. In this work, a set of formal principles is presented for guiding the design of flexible products. These principles are derived from the results of an empirical study of the United States patent repository. As part of the study, patents are analyzed with a dissection tool, and representative principles are derived from the data. The utility of these principles is demonstrated via the design of a flexible fuel cell system. The effectiveness of these principles is validated using a Change Modes and Effects Analysis (CMEA) tool to compare the resulting fuel cell concept to a typical device of similar functionality. Finally, a new product, the flexible flashlight, is invented using these principles to guide concept generation. The flexibility of this product is validated by an examination of possible future evolutions and their impact on the original design.