Product configuration is the process by which the products of a particular company can be modified in various ways in order to meet the needs and specifications of the companies' customers. This design activity can be undertaken by salespeople, distributors or the customers themselves.
In this process, a final product can typically be assembled from varied component parts made available by a company, such as an array of mechanical parts, services or softwares. This array of options are presented to customers, who can choose any combination of component parts based on certain constraints. These constraints could be technical, economical or procedural.
After the customer has identified the component parts that he or she would need, the final product will then be assembled by the company using the customer's choices.
In modern times, product configuration makes extensive use of artificial intelligence in guiding the customers towards assembling the desired end-product.
This artificial intelligence consists of algorithms which help customers explore different choices. Such technology is known as a configuration system, or simply a configurator.
Configuration systems are currently employed in many industries, including those involved in making computers, cars, telecommunications equipment and apparel.
These systems typically come as digital applications on websites which help customers in customizing products to their specifications. It is possible for many customers to make use of these digital applications at the same time while customizing products.
The Configuration Process
The configuration process could involve the simple choosing of component parts without regard for interoperability. An example could be the following considerations – in purchasing a truck and trailer – made by a customer who has decided to be camping in the wild for several weeks each year:
Colour of truck
Colour of trailer
Manual transmission or automatic truck
Size of the truck's engine
In the example above, the choice of one component of the final product has no bearing on the other components.
However, the customization process does not always occur arbitrarily.
The options made available to the customer in the configurator could be subject to a set of constraints. In this regard, every possible end-product a customer could assemble in the configurator must meet the requirements of functionality, technical feasibility and production.
For instance, if the buyer wishes to purchase a very large trailer, the configurator will equally offer larger truck engines as the only available choices. This is logical and practical since a larger trailer would mean a heavier load. This, in turn, would require a larger engine to pull this heavier load.
This is known as a rules-based configuration.
In another configuration process, known as the model-based configuration, the adjustment of certain parameters of the final product will automatically alter other parameters of the same product based on calculations derived from a basic model of the product.
An example of this process is an adjustment in the length of the trailer. In trying to keep with proportion, algorithms in the configurator will equally make adjustments in the length and width of the frame of the truck based on a pre-existing model.
Benefits of Product Configuration
• The time required to design products that would meet customers' needs would be cut short considerably. This is because a company employee will not be encumbered with trying to decipher what customers have in mind. The customers will be able to furnish this information by themselves.
• With customers choosing their specifications and component parts, there will be a greater level of accuracy in putting together the final product. This will ultimately lead to greater customer satisfaction.
• Since many customers can simultaneously design their own end-products using digital applications on company websites, companies will find it easier to know what the general public likes. This in turn will lead to better company organization, and hence the optimization of the manufacturing process.
• Softwares used for product configuration are also capable of storing data from previous orders by customers. These data can be used by companies in their marketing strategies since they will get to know what models of their products are trending or most popular.
• Through the use of product configuration softwares, customers will instantly be served with quotes for their designs. They will thus be able to make any changes they may like to make for economic reasons.
• Customers will have the opportunity to put together an end-product that is uniquely theirs.
• The customer service of companies will be markedly improved. This could ultimately lead to greater customer loyalty. Indeed, statistics have shown that companies that make use of product configurators enjoy greater profitability, while products that are purchased online through the process of product configuration generally outsell products that are sold in stores by a margin of about 50%.