juli 20, 2023. The Influence of Modular Product Design on the Model of Porter’s “Stuck in the Middle”

A Perspective on Machine Building, Market Variants, and Product Cost and Complexity


In today’s rapidly evolving markets, businesses face the challenge of delivering customized products to meet diverse customer demands while maintaining operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness. The concept of modular product design has emerged as a powerful solution to address this dilemma. By adopting modular design principles, companies can achieve a balance between customization and standardization, allowing them to cater to various market variants effectively. This article explores how modular product design influences the traditional model of Porter’s “Stuck in the Middle” in the context of machine building, market variants, and product cost and complexity.

I. Understanding Modular Product Design

Modular product design is an approach that breaks down complex products into smaller, self-contained modules or components. These modules can be easily interchanged or combined to create a wide range of product variants with minimal effort. By focusing on a modular design, companies can achieve flexibility and scalability in their product offerings. This approach enables them to respond quickly to changing market demands while minimizing costs and complexity.

II. Overcoming the “Stuck in the Middle” Paradox

Porter’s “Stuck in the Middle” concept suggests that companies pursuing a middle-ground strategy, trying to simultaneously differentiate their products and compete on cost, may find themselves in a vulnerable position. However, modular product design disrupts this notion by providing a pathway to combine customization and standardization effectively.

With modular design, companies can standardize certain core modules while offering a variety of interchangeable modules that cater to specific customer requirements. This allows them to differentiate their products without incurring excessive costs. By adopting modular design principles, companies can escape the “Stuck in the Middle” paradox and achieve a competitive advantage through both customization and cost-effectiveness.

III. Machine Building and Modularity

In the context of machine building, modular product design has revolutionized the industry. Machines consist of various components, each serving a specific purpose. Modular design allows these components to be standardized and interchanged, offering flexibility in machine configurations and functionality.

Machine builders can develop a catalogue of modular components, which customers can choose from to create machines tailored to their unique needs. This approach significantly reduces lead times, allowing manufacturers to respond rapidly to customer requests. Moreover, modular design facilitates easy maintenance and repairs, as faulty modules can be quickly replaced without disrupting the entire system. This flexibility and adaptability enhance customer satisfaction and provide a competitive edge in the machine-building market.

IV. Market Variants and Flexibility

In today’s globalized markets, customers demand products that align precisely with their preferences. These preferences can vary significantly, necessitating a diverse range of product variants. Modular product design empowers companies to meet this demand effectively.

By modularizing products, companies can create a broad range of variants by combining standardized modules in different configurations. This flexibility enables them to cater to specific market segments without incurring significant costs associated with traditional manufacturing practices. Manufacturers can leverage modular design to efficiently address niche markets, gaining a competitive advantage by offering tailored solutions that meet customer needs precisely.

V. Impact on Product Cost and Complexity

Traditionally, introducing product variants entailed substantial costs and increased complexity. Each variant required separate production lines, specialized tooling, and dedicated resources. However, modular product design mitigates these challenges.

Modularity enables companies to reuse existing modules and components across different product variants. By standardizing core modules, companies can achieve economies of scale, reducing production costs. Moreover, modular design simplifies supply chain management, as suppliers can focus on manufacturing specific modules rather than entire products. This streamlining of production and supply chain processes ultimately leads to cost savings and increased operational efficiency.

Furthermore, modular design reduces product complexity by compartmentalizing functionality into separate modules. This modularity enhances ease of assembly, maintenance, and future upgrades. The ability to replace or upgrade individual modules without affecting the entire product further reduces complexity, resulting in improved product reliability and reduced downtime.

VI. Profit Margin and Overcoming Challenges

Profit margin is a crucial aspect of any business, and modular product design offers several opportunities for companies to enhance their profitability while overcoming specific challenges. Let’s explore some of these challenges and how modular design helps address them:

  1. High Development Costs: Developing new products or variants can be expensive, requiring extensive research, design, and testing. Modular product design allows companies to leverage existing standardized modules, reducing development costs significantly. By reusing and reconfiguring modules, companies can bring new products to market faster and at a lower cost, thereby improving profit margins.
  2. Inventory Management: Maintaining a diverse range of product variants can lead to increased inventory and associated carrying costs. With modular design, companies can optimize inventory management by stocking standardized modules instead of finished products. This enables them to respond quickly to customer demands by assembling customized products from existing modules, reducing inventory levels and costs.
  3. Supply Chain Complexity: Managing a complex supply chain with multiple suppliers for different product variants can be challenging and time-consuming. Modular product design simplifies the supply chain by standardizing modules, allowing suppliers to focus on manufacturing specific components. This streamlining reduces supplier complexity, lead times, and costs, improving overall profitability.
  4. Production Efficiency: Traditional manufacturing methods often struggle to efficiently produce a wide range of product variants. Modular product design enables efficient production by standardizing core modules and configuring them as per customer requirements. This reduces the need for specialized tooling and dedicated production lines, resulting in improved production efficiency and cost savings.
  5. After-Sales Service: Providing effective after-sales service for complex products can be a costly and time-consuming endeavor. With modular design, companies can quickly diagnose and address issues by replacing or repairing faulty modules rather than the entire product. This reduces downtime and service costs while enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty.
  6. Adaptability to Market Changes: Markets are dynamic, with evolving customer demands and preferences. Traditional manufacturing models may struggle to adapt quickly to these changes. However, modular product design offers inherent flexibility, allowing companies to respond rapidly to market shifts. By reconfiguring existing modules or introducing new modules, companies can cater to changing market demands, ensuring continued profitability.

By addressing these challenges, modular product design enables companies to enhance their profit margins. The reduction in development costs, improved inventory management, streamlined supply chain, increased production efficiency, effective after-sales service, and adaptability to market changes contribute to higher profitability for businesses adopting modular design principles.

Modular product design not only provides companies with a competitive advantage in terms of customization and cost-effectiveness but also enhances their profit margins. By overcoming challenges such as high development costs, inventory management, supply chain complexity, production efficiency, after-sales service, and market adaptability, modular design empowers businesses to operate more efficiently and generate higher profits. As companies continue to embrace modular design, they can unlock new opportunities for growth, sustainability, and profitability in today’s rapidly evolving markets.

VII. Role of Engineering Models and CAD Tooling in Overcoming Challenges

Engineering models and Computer-Aided Design (CAD) tooling play a vital role in overcoming various challenges associated with modular product design. Let’s explore how these tools contribute to addressing the challenges and enhancing the effectiveness of modular design:

  1. Development and Prototyping: Engineering models and CAD tooling allow companies to simulate and visualize product designs before physical prototyping. This enables early identification of design flaws, potential assembly issues, and module compatibility problems. By iteratively refining the design using virtual models, companies can significantly reduce development time and costs while ensuring the compatibility and functionality of modules.
  2. Module Compatibility and Interchangeability: CAD tools provide precise measurements and design specifications, facilitating the creation of standardized modules. Engineers can use CAD software to ensure that modules fit together seamlessly and are interchangeable across different product variants. This ensures the compatibility and flexibility required for effective modular design, eliminating errors and rework during assembly.
  3. Manufacturing and Assembly Optimization: CAD tools enable engineers to design modules that are optimized for efficient manufacturing and assembly processes. By visualizing the assembly sequence and considering ergonomic factors, engineers can design modules that are easy to manufacture, assemble, and maintain. CAD tools also assist in generating detailed assembly instructions and bills of materials, ensuring accuracy and consistency in the production process.
  4. Simulation and Testing: Engineering models and CAD tools allow for the simulation and testing of module performance under various operating conditions. Engineers can analyze factors such as stress, strain, thermal behavior, and fluid dynamics to ensure the reliability and functionality of modules. This helps identify potential issues early on, reducing the risk of failure and improving overall product quality.
  5. Design Reusability: CAD tools facilitate the creation of modular libraries or catalogs, where standardized modules can be stored and reused across different product designs. This promotes design reusability and modularity, allowing companies to leverage existing modules for the development of new product variants. By reusing modules, companies can save time, reduce development costs, and maintain consistency across product lines.
  6. Documentation and Collaboration: CAD tools assist in generating accurate and detailed technical documentation, including 2D drawings, assembly instructions, and specifications. This documentation ensures clarity and consistency in the manufacturing and assembly processes, reducing errors and enhancing collaboration among cross-functional teams.
  7. Lifespan Management and Upgrades: Engineering models and CAD tools support the management of product lifespans by providing a digital representation of modules. This aids in tracking module usage, performance, and maintenance requirements. Additionally, CAD tools facilitate the design of upgradeable modules, allowing for easy integration of new technologies and enhancements without significant redesign efforts.

By leveraging engineering models and CAD tooling, companies can optimize the entire lifecycle of modular product design, from initial development to manufacturing, assembly, testing, and maintenance. These tools enable engineers to design, simulate, test, and document modules efficiently, ensuring compatibility, functionality, and ease of use. Ultimately, the utilization of engineering models and CAD tooling enhances the effectiveness and success of modular product design, overcoming challenges and enabling companies to realize the full potential of modularity in their products.


Modular product design has emerged as a transformative approach that empowers companies to overcome the traditional “Stuck in the Middle” paradox. By adopting modular design principles, businesses can strike a balance between customization and cost-effectiveness, gaining a competitive advantage in dynamic markets.

In the context of machine building, modular product design revolutionizes the industry by offering flexibility, scalability, and improved customer satisfaction. The ability to create diverse product variants without incurring excessive costs provides companies with a strategic edge.

With modular product design, businesses can effectively respond to market variants, reduce product complexity, and optimize costs. As industries continue to evolve, modular design will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of product development and manufacturing, enabling companies to thrive in an era of increasing customer expectations and market dynamics.

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Thijs Schepman



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