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Telecom and Data
Agile design for modularity – the design and industrialization stages
The second article in our series on agile design features a discussion between Freddy Miart, design department manager and Jean-Loup Ventron, industrialization manager. Both are based at the Nexans Vrigne-aux-Bois plant which specializes in the manufacture of accessories for telecommunications networks.
From a customer standpoint, providing an agile, modular design is about gathering information on their various needs or anticipating their future requirements. At the same time, designers must be provided with specifications that are compatible with the needs expressed by customers. It is however, the full understanding of the need for scalability within the range of products under development that makes the most significant difference. Otherwise, there is a risk that the design might be based on a solution that will prove unsuitable for more extended applications.
Taking the viewpoint of designers, modularity is a broad concept. This is because they must take into consideration much wider constraints including the capabilities of the production facilities they are designing for. In fact, designing for modularity is a global approach that must involve all departments in order to fully understand and integrate all of the constraints on the development process.
Jean-Loup Ventron explains that: “by dividing the overall product into sub-assemblies, we can better understand the work flows and improve the design process as we know exactly where we should focus to achieve the best outcome.”
Designing modular functional building blocks gives more flexibility. It also makes it possible to anticipate the future requirements for tools in the production workshop to make processes easier and more efficient for workers carrying out the assembly and to facilitate improvements in productivity. Jean-Loup Ventron continues: “The evolution of assembly processes to match the diversity of products we manufacture requires us to update our production workstations at a fast pace, optimize time consuming tasks, reduce MSDs and enhance the working conditions of our staff.”
Tools designed for specific assembly jobs may be used in different ways in order to adapt to different production requests. The first draft specification for a modular project always seems more challenging for the designer due to its exhaustive nature, functionally speaking. The results show that it is not difficult to apply modular design if these factors are made part of the design process from the very beginning. This makes it possible to modify sizes, prepare upgrade kits or anticipate functions which will not be used initially.
The design of functional modules rather than black boxes with a major function fosters modularity. This is the key to success. It is even more important now with the trend for the design of telecom accessories to be a concern for experts in plastics engineering, in which each modification of a part is a complex process. The interconnection of all teams within the development process therefore requires efficient coordination to ensure everything goes in the right direction.
Freddy Miart comments: “We manage our research and development process in a series of different steps in which the design and industrialization teams are gathered together. This is done from the very early stages in the development of a new modular product. The aim is for everyone to work closely together to continuously improve our common methodology by sharing knowledge on our separate processes and identifying synergies and gaps. This way of working allows us to deliver the project faster because we have clear goals from the outset.”
Ultimately, the aim of modularity in design is to ensure that all the right boxes are ticked quickly to ensure the fastest possible development of a high-quality product that meets the needs of our customers without compromising its suitability for efficient mass production.