What is Product Architecture?
Product architecture is the organization (or chunking) of a product’s functional elements. It’s the ways these elements, or chunks, interact. It plays a significant role in how to design, make, sell, use, and repair a new product offering. Linking to system-level design and the principles of system engineering.
Put simply, it’s the strategy of mapping the function to form.
Karl T. Ulrich, an educator, and author who has written extensively about product design and development. He describes product architecture as the “scheme by which the function of a product is allocated to physical components. Architecture is particularly relevant to the research and development (R&D) function of a company[…] architectural decisions are made during the early phases of the innovation process where the R&D function often plays a lead role.”
- Create a schematic of the product
- Cluster the elements of the schematic
- Draft a geometric layout
- Identify fundamental and incidental interactions
Integral vs. Modular
There are two fundamental types of product architecture: modular and integral.
In the modular type, well-defined component interfaces functionally self-contain modules. Organize a product into a number of modules to develop and complete a specific function. The interaction of these modules carries out the product’s overall purpose. The advantages of modular include task allocation and outsourcing. As well as, economies of scale, reuse/standardization for developing new products, maintenance, and mass customization.
With integral product architecture, functions are shared by physical elements. There’s greater complexity of mapping between components and functions. However, we design or adapt components for a specific product, making it easier to optimize the overall system.
Product Architecture’s Role in Product Development
Product architecture affects most aspects of product design and manufacturing. Determine early on in the product development process what role and team activities architecture will focus on. Because it also drives the design and has a significant impact on costs.