If we agree on the definition-product configurators are rules-based or knowledge-based tools that generate a list of components or assemblies, a product structure and associated documentation-it's easy to understand why long before the insurance industry considered the product configurator a viable instrument to facilitate product development, the manufacturing industry considered it to be one of the most valuable tools in the toolbox.For good reason. Consider the aerospace industry, in which regulatory compliance is intrinsic not just to a manufacturer's delivery of product, but also to its survival.

At each point during the manufacturing product life cycle management (PLM) cycle, which includes concept, design and development, prototype and pilot, launch and ramp, production, service and support, and finally phase out and retirement, an aerospace manufacturer's quality assurance program must meet the most demanding standards established by the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Department of Defense, all U.S. space agencies, ISO 9001, AS9100 and the requirements of all aircraft manufacturers.

Now consider the Lockheed Martin F-35, aka Joint Strike Fighter, a military aircraft comprising approximately six million components and a host of component options. Every component option the government chooses affects the availability of other options and changes the military aircraft's specifications and price.

So far, three variations of the aircraft have been ordered: a marine version, navy version and air force (dogfighter) version. It takes the sales agent weeks or months working with Lockheed Martin engineers to make sure all the chosen pieces fit together, renegotiating the price at every step.

The technology must produce the list of selected components as well as the structure and topology of the product. In order to perform product configuration efficiently and effectively, the end product must be prepared for it. Currently, military aircraft must be engineered, modularized and assembled from pre-developed components, all of which also must pass a rigorous regulatory qualifying process. Further, sales and production activities must match the opportunities and constraints of configurable products and new requirements for manufacturing and assembly and for planning and scheduling are developing.

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