Since the 1980's, the competitive landscape for manufacturing companies has changed from delivering few standardized products to the market to continuously catering to more and more specific market niches with an increasing number of product variants. Companies belonging to the discrete manufacturing sector (e.g. cars, power tools, consumer electronics) started utilizing concepts such as designing products based on a number of well-defined modules, which could be combined in various ways to produce a high variety of end products catering to different consumer needs. By focusing on which modules to allow variants of, and which to keep standardized, the companies found that they could deliver the required variety to their customers without inflicting crippling levels of complexity on their organizations.
Over the years, these concepts of modularization and the broader topic of product platform development has gained significant attention as a successful way for manufacturers to stay competitive. Despite the above mentioned general market changes, the advances with regards to methods for designing modular products and product platforms have mainly been related to discrete products, with process industrial contexts being largely overlooked.