Thousands of functional components, tens of thousands of parts and millions of lines of software, all working together safely and correctly: it’s a car. The complexity of building one is daunting. The complexity of building millions of them year after year, constantly evolving, can be overwhelming.

Dr Paul Clements

But that only scratches the surface.

The millions of vehicles produced by any major manufacturer are not millions of copies of the same thing; it’s millions of very different things, cars in tens of thousands of unique functional and electrical configurations based on the content of the features. Product variation is the only way to stay competitive and meet customer demand. Each of these configurations, with the thousands and millions of parts specifically selected and assembled for that configuration, must function properly and safely at all times. The need to deal with mind-numbing amounts of variation, and to do it right every time, is a third level of complexity at least as daunting as the first two.

The cost of developing conventional products

Ad hoc approaches to manage this variation throughout engineering and product development are no longer feasible. The worst of these approaches treats each different configuration separately. When changes occur in the product line (new feature updates, defect fixes, optimization of design changes or introduction of a new part), the change should be applied separately to each configuration that needs it. This results in unnecessary and costly duplicate efforts and the very real possibility of introducing costly errors if the change is not made perfectly in every configuration.

It can also become a management nightmare as product changes spill over across the business. Organizations spend enormous time and effort on certification and compliance documentation, product marketing, portfolio planning, sales automation, training, support, service, maintenance , disposal, etc.

Feature-Based Product Line Engineering (PLE) is an engineering discipline that exploits the similarities between related products, while respecting and managing their differences. It not only allows businesses to handle large-scale variations, but it also cuts the exponentially increasing costs of engineering multiple family members individually instead of the whole family at once. It works by creating a catalog of features, a compendium of the variation present in a range of products. The Feature Catalog is rendered in easy-to-read language that stakeholders, from executives to individual contributors across disciplines and departments, can use to achieve a shared understanding and mindset on the space. variation in their product line. Commercially available automation software has a set of feature selections that define a variant in all of the business, engineering, and supply chain artifacts needed to support that variant, including the specification for the variant. supplier, digital engineering models, software code, calibration sets, AUTOSAR artifacts, wiring harness designs, network traffic models, bill of materials and much more.

With the feature-based PLE, different divisions are able to focus on innovation and product excellence, enabling them to excel professionally and develop quality products. Business and engineering leaders realize remarkably higher productivity, lower overheads, shorter time to market, reduced workloads, higher quality and less risk of error by adopting PLE . This translates into a more diverse and innovative product line that more easily adapts to the rapidly changing product variations demanded by the market.


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