The plastic brick – the ideal metaphor for modularity

The division of labor did not only change the work of the employees by cutting individual tasks smaller and smaller and more and more simple. It changed also the approaches of the manufacturers. The classical master workshop that controlled the entire value creation is replaced by enterprises that are steered by employees and reduced to core tasks. Individual parts are manufactured and put together somewhere. Prerequisite is the modular structure of the products. The plastic brick offers the ideal metaphor for it.

Certain basic conditions have to be created, in order to ensure that the modules fit easily.

  • Adequate requirement specification
    It is key to determine the requirements for the individual components, so that the building blocks of a device or a machine fit and work together. This does not only include nowadays the size, the position of the part and the material. Most components must exchange additionally information, so that the whole works. The sections that can be more or less large are coordinated by a central function. Most of the time this is the task of the manufacturers. But even this task is sometimes outsourced to a general contractor.
    In the world of the plastic bricks the number of components, their form, their color and meanwhile even their technique are considered. The sets, in which the components are bundled, consist additionally of a manual that guarantees that the desired article can be put together with the existing parts.
  • Exact interfaces
    The interfaces are the points, where the individual parts are plugged together. It is not only a matter of fastening the components safely, but also of sufficient space, so that the parts do not disturb each other. With the possibilities of CAx, the components can be nowadays built up and checked virtually, before the individual parts are available at all. Despite the actual IT the coordination of the various parts is a complex duty that takes time. Changes of the assembly space have effects that impact the entire product. The alignment effort costs effort and resources for regulating arising changes. However, the rebuilding is enabled by the determined junction points.
    In the world of the plastic bricks the studs of the components provide a reliable interface. They are standardized and hold the components reliably together. The spontaneous construction of plastic bricks leads sometimes into a dead end. As soon as there is not enough space, the stones must be taken apart and be put together with a large effort. Due to always the same junction points, there are simple tools for dismounting the assemblage again.
  • Reliable isolation
    A module does not only require the connectivity to the remaining components. A module by itself is a complex whole. Likewise, it has internally requirements, exactly like the product where it is part of. These internal definitions are only known by the module supplier. For the product manufacturer the part remains a black box that he does not know neither has to know. The parameters for the installation are only part of the interfaces. If something does not work as desired, it is important that the component does not cause damage to the other elements. Defective parts can be exchanged without further side-effects.
    In the world of the plastic bricks partial components can be prepared in parallel and be built together afterwards. If difficulties arise, the individual sections can be replaced.

Modularity led to the fact that in different products more and more often similar components are integrated – batteries, airbags, folding roofs of convertible cars. The product manufacturers get paid for their brand, although there are similar parts in different product lines and brands.
In the world of the plastic bricks there is not the individual component in the center, but kits or components that are offered topic-oriented – Star Wars, farm, hospital or the many technical additional offers, like electric engines. The basis is the connectivity of the studs.

Bottom line: Modularity can be found nowadays everywhere – e.g. in the car, in white goods, in the media and when learning. So that this function, the requirements must be clearly described, interfaces connect components and the components function autonomously. Modularity increased the complexity and at the same time guaranteed the connection ability with norms and standards. On the basis of plastic bricks these aspects can be clarified. Therefore, they are the ideal metaphor for modularity.