Emilia Dunaj
Emilia Dunaj
Head of Technology Insights
April 2024, 10 min. read

What are configuration rules, and how are they related to the manufacturing process? Modern manufacturing and sales have undergone a revolution. They no longer operate in a silo, but instead focus around customer pain points, opinions, and desires.

But how does this impact your business?

It means investing in modern sales tools that get you closer to your customers. Modern digital tools are designed to help you understand customer needs on a deeper level. Product configuration is key to offering personalized and customized products that directly address those needs.

However, ensuring a customized product is possible to manufacture efficiently requires a crucial element: product configuration rules. These rules define the configuration parameters, guaranteeing that the product remains attractive and manufacturable.

Keep reading as we break down the role of product configuration rules and how they can transform your manufacturing and sales!

What is a product configuration rule?

Product configuration rules are algorithmic guidelines embedded within configuration software. These rules are programmed to understand and apply complex product logic. They orchestrate the customization process of your products.

In simple terms, think of these rules as a digital rulebook overseeing every step of customization. The result? A product that aligns perfectly with customer needs and your manufacturing capabilities.

product configuration process explained
Source

Traditionally, a salesperson might configure a product like industrial machinery. This process can be time-consuming. In addition, relying heavily on the salesperson’s knowledge is often prone to human error, such as selecting incompatible product components or overlooking specific customer needs.

Now, introduce an online product configurator with defined rules. In a similar situation, these rules act like an intelligent system. When a customer selects a feature, the system automatically suggests compatible options and excludes incompatible ones. 

For instance, if a client chooses a specific type of industrial motor, the system immediately narrows down the compatible components like power supplies or control units, avoiding any mismatch. This speeds up the process and ensures accuracy, eliminating the risk of human error that can occur in traditional methods.

→ Learn more: 6 Steps To Build a Configuration Engine for Product Rules and Constraints

Types of product configuration rules

For some product ranges, especially when customizing complex product features, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach. Different types of rules govern how products can be customized.

Let’s dive into these rules, using real-world configuration examples to show how they work in practice.

Compatibility rules

Compatibility rules in the product customization process ensure that each component or option selected by a user is functionally compatible with others. 

Say you’re building a car with the use of an online car configurator tool. The compatibility rules match components like the engine with the right transmission system. If you choose a high-performance engine, compatibility rules would automatically suggest transmission systems and suspensions that can support this engine’s power. 

This prevents combinations that are mechanically incompatible or unsafe. Consequently, compatibility rules ensure the final product is functional and meets the customer’s specific requirements.

Dependency rules

Dependency rules in product configuration are designed to ensure that certain choices made by a user automatically trigger the inclusion of necessary complementary components. 

For example, when you’re configuring software through an online tool you may select a high-end graphics software. Dependency rules will automatically include a compatible operating system and perhaps additional memory requirements in the configuration. This ensures that the software will operate efficiently and effectively on your system. 

Dependency rules are key in preventing selections that might lead to functional incompatibility. They ensure the end product meets the user’s initial choice and includes all necessary components for optimal performance.

Inclusion rules

Inclusion rules in product configuration workflow automatically add certain features or components based on the user’s initial selections. 

A practical example? Selecting a sports package in a car might automatically include sport seats and a special suspension system. This streamlines the selection process but also ensures that the car is equipped with all the elements necessary to deliver the full sports package experience. 

By intelligently bundling related options, inclusion rules make the product more valuable and complete for the customer.

Exclusion rules 

Exclusion rules in product configuration models are designed to prevent incompatible choices during the customization process. 

Say you’re configuring an HVAC system online. If you select a specific type of indoor unit, exclusion rules might automatically prevent the selection of outdoor units that are not compatible in terms of power or system type. 

Exclusion rules are essential to avoid combinations that could lead to inefficiencies or technical problems. By automatically filtering out unsuitable options, exclusion rules simplify the selection process and ensure the final product is cohesive and fully operational.

Attribute-based rules

Attribute-based rules in product configuration focus on specific characteristics like size, color, or material. 

Customizing a smartphone online is a good example of how these rules work. If you select a larger screen size, attribute-based rules might adjust the available color options or the types of cases compatible with that size. This ensures that all selected attributes are compatible and manufacturable. 

These rules improve user experience by guiding them through choices. This way, they can create a product that perfectly fits their preferences.

Pricing rules

Pricing rules in product configuration dynamically adjust the cost based on the customer’s selections. As users customize their product, adding or removing features, the price they see on screen reflects these changes in real-time. This way your pricing is transparent and your customers can make more informed decisions based on their budget and preferences. 

For businesses, pricing rules are crucial for maintaining a balance between offering variety in customization and ensuring profitability. These rules help you manage the complexity of pricing various configurations. They ensure the final price is fair and aligned with the value offered.

Validation rules

Validation rules make sure that the final product is correct and practical. For instance, say you’re configuring a modular exhibition booth online. As you select different modules and features, validation rules check that your choices fit together properly and meet all necessary structural and design requirements at the same time. 

These rules are crucial in preventing configurations that are impractical or structurally unsound. They help in maintaining quality standards and customer satisfaction. This guarantees that the configured booth is functional while looking great, ready for a successful exhibition.

Custom rules

Custom rules in product configuration address specifically to unique or specialized products. These rules allow for a high degree of personalization, so you can offer product lines that are exclusive and unique.

For instance, an engineering company that designs and manufactures specialized industrial machinery might use custom rules to allow clients to specify unique requirements. These could include selecting special materials for extreme conditions or customizing the machine layout for specific production processes. 

This customization guards that the configurable products meet the specific needs of professional clients. At the same time, it ensures they comply with strict industry regulations, improving both their functionality and adherence to standards.

Challenges in configuration rules

Building a product that perfectly fits each customer’s needs sounds great, right? Advanced configuration makes this possible. 60% of consumers say they’re more likely to become repeat buyers after a personalized shopping experience, highlighting the real-world impact of such customization. 

This sophistication is achieved through a network of detailed rules, dependencies, and constraints. Yet, such complexity introduces considerable issues. 

Let’s take a look at some of these key aspects to understand the complexities and hurdles involved:

Defining and implementing rules

Defining step-by-step configuration rules is a heavy and collaborative effort. This process often brings together specialized engineers, product designers, and sales specialists, each bringing deep domain knowledge to the table. 

The primary users of these configurators include sales staff (46%), product designers (25%), and production planners (14%). Therefore, their combined insights are vital in developing rules that are both comprehensive and clearly understandable, covering all potential configurations.

Once defined, the challenge shifts to skilled developers and UX designers. They work to ensure these rules are implemented in a way that’s intuitive and user-friendly, balancing technical complexity with ease of use. 

Maintaining configuration rules

Once set, maintaining these rules becomes the next challenge. Products evolve, technologies advance, and customer preferences shift. Keeping the configuration commands aligned with these changes is a task that requires constant attention and adaptation. 

The maintenance of these rules is a technical task. But it’s also strategic, as it involves understanding market trends and customer behavior to assign rules that remain relevant and effective.

Technological limitations

One of the main configuration issues is the technical skill needed to update the software. Making changes or updates to the configurator software requires a deep understanding of the technology and the product. 

When it comes to incorporating modern features like artificial intelligence (AI) into configurators, the importance of technical skill becomes even more evident. Successfully implementing AI into these tools calls for developers with strong technical skills and understanding customer decision-making. This is a big challenge, as working with the right software experts is key to keeping up with technological changes.

Evolving product lines

As product lines change and grow, keeping configuration rules up-to-date becomes a continuous task. New products might introduce features that didn’t exist before. These new features might require updates to the rules. But when adding new rules, the developer also needs to make sure they work well with the existing ones.

To easily incorporate new features, the configurator itself must be designed with scalability in mind. This way, you can add or change rules as your products evolve, without costly rework of the software. This will keep your configurator current and effective.

Addressing customer feedback

Every new piece of software should be closely monitored in the first few months following its launch. It’s important to check how users interact with it. Asking your sales staff, as well as your customers, for feedback can help to identify areas that need improvement. Perhaps certain features are not intuitive, or some configurations are more popular than initially expected. 

This ongoing feedback loop allows businesses to make necessary tweaks, ensuring the configurator remains user-friendly and relevant. Saying that, this process might reveal the need to amend existing configuration rules to better align with user needs and preferences.

The balance between customization and cost

Customization, while desirable, comes at a price. The more complex the configuration options, the higher the potential cost–both in terms of the configuration system itself and the production. 

You need to find a good balance between providing many customization options and keeping costs in check. More customization options can make customers happier and set your business apart from competitors. However, they also tend to increase production costs. So, think carefully about how adding new customizable features will affect your expenses.

Keeping an eye on what customers want and current market trends is key to making these decisions.

Conclusion

Automating the configuration process with rules improves efficiency and helps to deliver a more reliable and customer-specific product. Additionally, there’s less chance of costly errors and rework.

Without thoroughly thought-out and well-designed product configuration rules, users could easily make mistakes or create unrealistic products that are impractical or unprofitable to manufacture. These rules act as guidelines, ensuring that what customers design can be efficiently produced and sold.

Balancing the complexities of these rules is challenging. But it’s essential in a market that increasingly favors mass customization. As customer preferences and technology progress, so must the configuration rules. This ongoing process is critical for staying relevant and competitive.

Ready to navigate the complexities of a custom product builder and stay ahead in your market? Contact our team today. We’re experts in refining configuration rules no matter how advanced your product range is.

→ Recommended reading: Explaining Product Configuration Types