Reviewing the Intellectual Structure of Product Modularization: Toward a Common View and Future Rese

Nonfinancial Considerations in Eco‐Innovation Decisions

Reviewing the Intellectual Structure of Product Modularization: Toward a Common View and Future Research Agenda

Kai G. Mertens, Christoph Rennpferdt, Erik Greve, Dieter Krause, and Matthias Meyer

kHUB post date: March 17, 2023
Originally published: July 18, 2022 (PDMA JPIM • Vol. 40, Issue 1 • January 2023)
Read time: 65 minutes

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Product modularization in new product development has attracted considerable interest among scholars and practitioners from diverse fields of specialization. This has resulted in cross-disciplinary diversity in the field, diverting attention from its overall intellectual structure and hindering the development of a common view and shared concepts. Extant research lacks an integrative review, transcending a focal discipline that could identify gaps and ambiguities while making recommendations to advance the field. Considering a period of 30 years (1990–2020), we generate a data set of 2988 citing publications to which we apply a co-citation analysis. Thereby, we uncover the intellectual structure of the field and find three research perspectives that represent key knowledge bases: (1) product system, (2) production system, and (3) organizational system. Delimiting the data set into four periods, we can track developments over time, where we notice an increasing disintegration of the product system perspective, which is rooted in the discipline of engineering design. Within the two other perspectives, we document extensive dynamism in terms of publications, especially in the two most recent periods, indicating an active discussion and a potential receptivity to new trends. For these periods, we also identify an emerging cluster of fundamental publications and an increasing emphasis on the concept of system architecture. Leveraging the synthesis of these results, we forge links between neighboring disciplines and recommend avenues for further research, ideally to develop a more common view.

Practitioner Points

  • Firms may not only capture the benefits from product modularization in terms of cost advantages and flexibility, but also potential positive outcomes are increasing sustainability, improved digitalization, new paths for innovation, and better collaboration.
  • The scope of product modularization moves beyond product architecture in its design implications, potentially encompassing—among others—services, digital technologies, production, organization, supply chains, and industries. This is denoted by the emerging concept of system architecture.
  • The migration toward system thinking in product modularization requires interdisciplinary skills for design professionals, helping them to cross-functional and disciplinary boundaries when applying product modularization.
  • Innovation professionals should not see product modularization as a threat to innovation but also as a potential enabler, for example, for digital and green innovations.

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