Designing product architecture: a systematic method

Van Wie, Michael James
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Architecture design, also thought of more loosely as layout design within the context of conceptual design, is one stage of the mechanical design process that significantly impacts product performance in terms of manufacturing, assembly, modularity, product family variety, maintenance, etc. This design step is special because it marks an occasion when many effects, including geometric concerns, come into play simultaneously on a large scale. The purpose of this research is to investigate the architecture design phase and develop a new design method as there is currently no consensus regarding a best strategy for dealing with architecture design. The resulting method is based primarily on the development of a formal representation and a set of guidelines derived from an empirical product study. Each of these three main deliverables are assessed and validated as part of their development. Based on the concept of a mental model, a representation is developed which consists of a lexicon and a six element notation known as the architecture workframe. Terms of the lexicon provide a well-defined means to describe various aspects of architecture while the notation instantiates these terms in a reasonable format in order to facilitate effective manipulation of the architecture. This representation allows the designer to incrementally proceed from initial constraints to a fully described layout at the conceptual level. The representation directly supports design for modularity and design for flexibility. Effectiveness of the representation is confirmed through an experimental comparison of this technique with an analogous conventional method. Results are promising in terms of the quantity, quality, and efficiency of design solution. In working toward the second deliverable, an empirical study of thirty product evolutions is performed and ten guidelines are extracted through a process of making observations, hypothesizing guidelines, and refining a set of guidelines. Validation of these guidelines is performed using a second sample set of existing products that are representative of the larger population of products. Finally, a cohesive method is proposed to encapsulate the representation and guidelines into a design strategy. The method is assessed with respect to method constituents and the expected bounds of performance of those constituents.