Design Reuse: Reusing vs. Cloning and Owning

Reusing vs. Cloning and Owning

As I am preparing for my presentation and panel discussion at the Product Innovation Congress in San Diego next week, I am speaking with colleagues and experts in all things PLM. I recently spoke with Charlie Krueger from BigLever on product line engineering (PLE) and how some organizations and individuals practice design reuse.

We often encounter instances in which the engineering team makes use of an existing design or an inventory part in a new product. They assign it a new part number and sometimes a new name, and move it to the new system’s bill of materials (BOM), and from that point onward the part start a product lifecycle of its own. Charlie terms this approach “cloning and owning.”

Obviously, that’s not what we mean when advocate design reuse.

In a recent blog on design reuse I discussed the importance of reuse not only for the more obvious and better understood reasons such as accelerating time to market and reducing inventory costs but, more significantly, for the ability to reuse design, manufacturing and service knowledge associated with these physical objects.

If commonly used and shared parts and subsystems carry separate identities, then the ability to share lifecycle information across products and with suppliers is highly diminished, especially when products are in different phases of their lifecycle. In fact, the value of knowledge sharing can be greater when it’s done out of sync with lifecycle phase. Imagine, for example, the value of knowing the manufacturing ramp up experience of a subsystem and the engineering change orders (ECOs) that have been implemented to correct them before a new design is frozen. In an organization that practices “cloning and owning”, it’s highly likely that this kind of knowledge is common knowledge and is available outside that product line.

An effective design reuse strategy must be built upon a centralized repository of reusable objects. Each object—a part, a design, a best practice—should be associated with its lifecycle experience: quality reports, ECOs, supplier incoming inspections, reliability, warranty claims, and all other representations of organizational knowledge that is conducive and critical to making better design, manufacturing and service related decisions.

  • Organizations should strive to institute a centralized product management strategy that consolidates and exploits PLM and PDM data, ERP systems, and, in all likelihood, a myriad of informal and unstructured emails and spreadsheets.
  • To maximize the value of design reuse, information must be shared across product lines independent of the lifecycle phase of each product. In particular, incorporate late-stage knowledge such as service and warranty information in design decisions of new products.
  • Effective reuse would benefit from the ability to decompose system architectures differently. In addition to structuring product information using traditional engineering and manufacturing BOMs, encapsulating and organizing information by feature families and configurations, such as in the methodology behind PLE, is highly effective, especially in complex product architectures.


  • Eldad Cohen

    Design reuse was one of the reasons Group Technology was invented many years ago. Thanks to technology and databases, we have migrated to Classification Systems which is the technology currently used by most PLM systems to avoid the cloning effect you are talking about.
    Unfortunately, I believe most organizations have limited the use of Classification to Std . Off the
    Shelf components, linking to some std catalogs, but very few have classified their in house designs. With the high workforce mobility, the design knowledge (IP) is lost when the engineer leaves.