How to Build Product Configuration Models

In the emerging world of Model-Based Engineering (MBSE) and Model-Based Development (MBD), it can be daunting for many manufacturers to develop a product modeling solution, especially if it is to support the development of accurate product configurators for sales. But it doesn’t need to be that difficult!

With Configuration Lifecycle Management (CLM) solutions, it is possible to quickly develop accurate and reliable product configuration models using a GUI-based tool that does not require in-depth knowledge of product modeling, modeling languages or coding.

It’s hard today to think of a product that has not been digitized; that is to say physical products with embedded software. The embedded software provides a basis for both configurability as well as customization, which are both highly desired by today’s consumers.

Addressing these demands for configurability and customization comes at a cost with products becoming more complex to engineer, manufacture and sell. To manage this complexity, product manufacturers are introducing product configurators to guide customers in the sales process. Product configurators enable salespeople (or customers themselves) to configure products to the customer needs through selection of presented product options. For example, building a car by choosing the color, engine-size, interior etc.

Addressing Complexity with Product Configurators

Product configurators have been available for some time, but some of the core challenges still remain. These include ensuring that the product information and options presented are accurate and that the combinations of options are valid and deliverable. For example, I can choose a black car, but can I get it with a white interior?

To ensure that only valid options are presented both before and after choices are made, product configurators need to be driven by a product configuration model that is based on up-to-date information on parts and component availability as well as rules and constraints defining which combinations of options are allowed.

Many product configuration tools are based on basic product configuration models that are not synchronized with other systems, like Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. This means that information needs to be manually duplicated leading to potential errors and delays in updating the product configuration model. Presenting inaccurate data to customers through the product configurator will result in configurations that cannot be delivered leading to disgruntled customers.

Stop Struggling with Double Maintenance of Data

Create a Product Configuration Model That Can Be Integrated with Other Systems

Today, concepts like Model-Based Engineering (MBE) and Model-Based Development (MBD) are attracting a lot of attention. However, getting started with model-based development or model-based engineering tools can be daunting and requires a steep learning curve. While many manufacturers are on a path to adopting these concepts, embarking on a model-based journey to address product configurator challenges in sales can be difficult to justify.

Fortunately, there are faster ways to get started and make an impact.

Configuration Lifecycle Management (CLM) solutions are designed specifically to support the development of reliable product configurators. CLM solutions are also designed for integration with PLM, MES, ERP and CRM systems to enable data from these systems to be used in product configuration models, but also to provide a single-source-of-truth on product configuration information to all of these systems.

Configit Ace® Platform for Product Configuration Modeling

A core capability of CLM solutions like Configit Ace® is modeling. Sophisticated product models can be built using a Graphical User Interface (GUI). This includes definition of products and product families including properties and features as well as sophisticated rules and logical expressions defining how options can be combined as part of a configuration.

Fig.1 – Configit Ace® Model GUI-based product modeling

This enables users to create product models quickly from the ground up. Both intuitive and easy to learn, the entire process is performed using GUI selections and commands without the need for coding.

An additional advantage of using a GUI-based approach is that capabilities can be added automatically. For example, Configit Ace® automatically creates validation tests for each rule and condition defined. This can support test and debug of product models, which can also be performed using a GUI-based approach.

Configit Ace® provides a Verify module that enables modelers to debug their product models and define custom tests in addition to the automatic validation tests already described. In addition, it is possible to create a test configurator to ensure that the product model is performing as expected in support of a real product configuration application. Rule conflicts with explanations can be highlighted during test to enable refinement and tuning of the product model.

Fig.2 – Test configurator with explanations of conflicts

Introducing GUI-based modeling with CLM solutions enables manufacturers to quickly and easily embark on their model-based journey.

CLM solutions like Configit Ace® enable product models to be created quickly by users with no prior experience. The product models created in Configit Ace® are then available to all systems allowing them to be immediately updated on any changes ensuring that the CLM system is a single-source-of-truth on product configuration information across functions.

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About the Author

Henrik Hulgaard Configit

Henrik Hulgaard, is the CTO and co-founder of Configit, a global  Configuration Lifecycle Management (CLM) solution provider and a supplier of business-critical software for configuring complex products. He holds a doctorate in computer science from the University of Washington and is an associate professor of computer science. He has published more than 25 articles internationally.