An experience of modularity through design

Joanne S. Smith, Malcolm D. Robb, Alex H.B. Duffy, Alistair Thomson, Charles Nisbet

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We aim to utilise the experiences of a marine industry-based design team to determine the need for research into a modular design methodology in an industrial environment. In order to achieve this we couple the outcome of a current design project with the findings of a recent literature survey with the objectives of firstly, clarifying why a methodology is required and, secondly, defining the key elements which the methodology would have to realise or address. The potential benefits of modularity have long been recognised in the shipbuilding industry. Many shipbuilders adopt a 'module' approach to ship construction whereby the ship structure is separated into a number of large structural 'blocks' to ease manufacture and manoeuvrability during construction. However, as understanding of the capabilities of modularity as a design tool develops there is increased interest in capitalising on the differing life phase benefits of modularity such as reduced design costs and time, increased ease of maintenance, upgrade, re-use, redesign and standardisation across individual products and product families. This is especially pertinent in naval shipbuilding where the maintenance of a class of ship requires that all previously designed ships in that class must be of similar outfitting and must be able to interface with the new ship, in terms of propulsion, weapons, communications and electronics, and thus often require some form of retrofit. Therefore, many shipbuilders are moving from viewing modularity as a purely 'manufacturing' principle to a design centred principle. However, as noted by Chang and Ward 'none of the design theories or tools in the mechanical world serves as an articulate procedure for designers to follow in practising modular design'. Thus, despite the identification of a need to introduce modular principles at an earlier stage than detail design and construction, there is little aid in the form of tools, techniques and methodologies for designers in practice.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 2001
Event13th International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED 01) - Glasgow
Duration: 21 Aug 200123 Aug 2001


Conference13th International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED 01)
Abbreviated titleICED 01


  • design methods
  • modularity
  • standardisation
  • marine engineering
  • design engineering

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