Utility driven design of product architectures for technical products in the B2B segment

Key Info

Basic Information

Lehrstuhl für Marketing
Funding Body:
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
Werkzeugmaschinenlabor WZL der RWTH Aachen


Because of differing customer needs, firms offering a standardized product are only able to gain a small share of the relevant market (i.e., they acquire only a small part of potential customers). Against this background, many firms offer differentiated product lines to fulfill heterogeneous customer needs. As this is especially true for Business-to-Business markets (B2B), the current research project is focused on these markets. The corresponding challenges of diverse product variants are part of the technical product design. The integration of customer needs into the technical design process to develop a beneficial product program and, at the same time, the use of a very similar product architecture in manufacturing are key drivers to successfully managing variants. Thereby, complex and large product programs can have positive as well as negative effects from a customer’s perspective. On the one hand, customers should evaluate a large number of variants positively because it raises the possibility to find a product, which exactly fits their needs. On the other hand, a large number of seemingly similar variants of the same product can lead to confusion and information overload for the customer. These effects for the customer come alongside with effects for product development and manufacturing, which are affected by complexity costs that result from a high number of variants. The goal of this research project is to develop a methodology for the early design stages of technical products that allows firms to launch product architectures that match the required market variety. Based on an extensive analysis of the buying process in the B2B sector, the number and specifications of critical product features are identified. In particular, the positive and negative aspects of a wide range of variants are considered. The results of this analysis are compared iteratively with the technical possibilities. This is done to ensure that new product architectures that offer greater flexibility while utilizing economies of scale (e.g., modular platforms) are used in the planning process. In this manner, firms will be able to develop products and product programs that resolve the dilemma between required economies of scale and required product customization. Hence, this research project aims to show how firms can reduce complexity costs while still fulfilling relevant customer needs.