Workshop on automated product configuration

Article · 2020-12-16

The workshop was led by Daniel Boqvist, Deputy Process Manager at Automation Region.

On December 8th, Automation Region arranged a digital workshop on automated product configuration - the process of customizing a product. Representatives from about 20 companies and organizations worked on a fictitious case based on a manufacturing company that wants to modernize its product configuration environment.

The workshop was led by Daniel Boqvist, Deputy Process Manager at Automation Region.

- Among the participants were both needs owners and developers, as well as students and researchers, says Daniel Boqvist. When we bring together representatives from different organizations, the common knowledge and experience leads to new ideas and solutions, that is when the conditions for innovation are greatest.

New possibilities with digital format

The case that formed the basis for the workshop was based on a fictitious medium-sized Swedish company that needs to modernize its highly driven and outdated product configuration environment. The company's existing solution is based on UNIX functionality that poses both performance and security-critical challenges with relatively high learning thresholds for users.

After the introduction to the case, the participants worked in small groups with the help of an integrated workshop tool for real-time collaboration. The digital format makes it possible to gather experts regardless of where they are in the world and the idea of ​​starting from a fictional case is to stimulate an open discussion where participants are free to share their knowledge.

- I have not encountered any similar activity before, where it is possible to meet knowledgeable representatives from research, manufacturing industry, implementers, system integrators and configurator suppliers, says Max Leitgeb, Senior product manager at Tacton Systems. Everyone contributed with interesting aspects and experiences about what it takes to succeed with product configuration. I am super happy that I was able to participate and I look forward to the next opportunity.

Investigate the needs before choosing a solution

The need identified is a modern, highly automated environment that allows manual updates for project-specific requirements. The environment must be well integrated with both the sales configurator and ERP, CAD and DMS systems. It should be an effective and intuitive tool for many daily users and therefore interaction between man and machine is central.

- The most critical problems for the case company were judged to be the integration between several different systems and to set up rules that govern the configuration of customer-specific solutions, says Daniel Boqvist. Another challenge is to ensure the quality and maintenance of data sets. The process also includes a number of different stakeholders that need to be included, where the management's commitment is crucial for a successful project.

To deal with the challenges, the participants suggested an in-depth analysis and mapping of the purpose of the configurator - to first understand the needs and then choose an appropriate solution. A new, automated configurator requires new skills and understanding of the requirements placed on the organization. A well-established strategy is needed that shows the benefits based on the needs of all stakeholders.

- The competence issue in particular emerges as particularly critical, it applies to both the technical development competence and knowledge of integration between systems and stakeholders in the process, says Daniel Boqvist. The company often has internal expertise that is linked to the old system and then it may be necessary to bring in outside help. It is a large and demanding job that needs to be broken down into smaller work packages. Dream big but start small, as one of the participants put it…

Expected pain points for the fictitious company

  • Identify stakeholders
  • Identify the purpose of the configurator, target image and outcome must be clear
  • Manage integration between different systems, rules for configuring customer-specific solutions, different data formats
  • Competence among employees - before and after

Suggestions for solutions to overcome pain points

  • Make sure that the system is connected to other IT projects
  • "Draw the map" - understand the system and how data travels through it, get help if internal skills are lacking
  • Technology to transform data and ensure quality in data, choice of platform
  • Automation standards to reduce hand-laying
  • Interface for standards, maintain data
  • Connect APIs for data translation
  • Anchored strategy - show benefits for all, must be driven by the entire management

Recommendations to the company

  • Choose installed configurator or web-based
  • Be visionary, but take one thing at a time - the vision must be synchronized with the rest of the organization, which requires cross-functional collaboration
  • Use user-driven HMI
  • Find people with the right skills, other skills will be required than before
  • Do not go live too early
  • Dream big but start small

To be continued

Automation Region is currently preparing several similar activities in collaboration with companies and organizations in the USA, Germany and Canada, among others. Do you want to know more, or do you have a case that you would like to work on in a workshop? Welcome to contact Daniel Boqvist or Elin Asplund.