Modular design, or "modularity in design", is a design approach that subdivides a system into smaller parts called modules or skids, that can be independently created and then used in different systems. A modular system can be characterized by functional partitioning into discrete scalable, reusable modules, rigorous use of well-defined modular interfaces, and making use of industry standards for interfaces.
Besides reduction in cost (due to less customization, and shorter learning time), and flexibility in design, modularity offers other benefits such as augmentation (adding new solution by merely plugging in a new module), and exclusion. Examples of modular systems are cars, computers, process systems, solar panels and wind turbines, elevators and modular buildings. Earlier examples include looms, railroad signaling systems, telephone exchanges, pipe organs and electric power distribution systems. Computers use modularity to overcome changing customer demands and to make the manufacturing process more adaptive to change (see modular programming). Modular design is an attempt to combine the advantages of standardization (high volume normally equals low manufacturing costs) with those of customization. A downside to modularity (and this depends on the extent of modularity) is that low quality modular systems are not optimized for performance. This is usually due to the cost of putting up interfaces between modules.
Proper inter-modular design
Recognizing that excessive inter-module dependencies are an indicator of poor software design, a system should be intended to be loosely coupled to avoid unnecessary dependencies. Thus, inter-modular design should be easy to work with because modules can be easily understood in isolation, and changes or extensions to functionality would be easily localized.
Aspects of modular design can be seen in cars or other vehicles to the extent of there being certain parts to the car that can be added or removed without altering the rest of the car.
A simple example of modular design in cars is the fact that, while many cars come as a basic model, paying extra will allow for "snap in" upgrades such as a more powerful engine or seasonal tires; these do not require any change to other units of the car such as the chassis, steering, electric motor or battery systems.
The Global Village Construction Set (GVCS) is a modular, DIY, low-cost, high-performance platform that enables fabrication of the 50 different Industrial Machines that it takes to build a small, sustainable civilization with modern comforts.
Modular design can be seen in certain buildings. Modular buildings (and also modular homes) generally consist of universal parts (or modules) that are manufactured in a factory and then shipped to a build site where they are assembled into a variety of arrangements.
Modular buildings can be added to or reduced in size by adding or removing certain components. This can be done without altering larger portions of the building. Modular buildings can also undergo changes in functionality using the same process of adding or removing modular components.
For example, an office building can be built using modular parts such as walls, frames, doors, ceilings, and windows. The office interior can then be partitioned (or divided) with more walls and furnished with desks, computers, and whatever else is needed for a functioning workspace. If the office needs to be expanded or redivided to accommodate employees, modular components such as wall panels can be added or relocated to make the necessary changes without altering the whole building. Later on, this same office can be broken down and rearranged to form a retail space, conference hall or any other possible type of building using the same modular components that originally formed the office building. The new building can then be refurnished with whatever items are needed to carry out its desired functions.
Other types of modular buildings that are offered from a company like Allied Modular are a guardhouse, machine enclosure, press box, conference room, two-story building, clean room and much more applications.
Many misconceptions are held around modular buildings. In reality modular construction is a viable method of construction for quick turnaround and fast growing companies. Industries that would benefit from include: healthcare, commercial, retail, military, and multi-family/student housing.
In computer hardware
Modular design in computer hardware is the same as modular design in other things (e.g. cars, fridges, even furniture). The idea is to build computers with easily replaceable parts that use standardized interfaces. This technique allows a user to upgrade certain aspects of the computer easily without having to buy another computer altogether. This idea is also being implemented in Project Ara which provides a platform for manufactures to create modules for a smartphone which can then be customised by the end user.
A computer is actually one of the best examples of modular design - typical modules are power supply units, processors, mainboards, graphics cards, hard drives, optical drives, etc. All of these parts should be easily interchangeable as long as the user uses parts that support the same standard interface as the part that was replaced. Similar to the computer's modularity, other tools have been developed to leverage modular design, such as littleBits Electronics, which snap together with interoperable modules to create circuits.
Giffi, GIft For Future Inventors, let children build their own robots or kinetic sculptures. It consists of moving parts and support parts.There are currently three types of moving parts: rotating, linear actuating and sweeping. Each part has its own microcontroller inside, by simply assembling and plugging them in to power (with a battery box or wall plug box), children can quickly build a moving object.
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- 3D printing
- Configuration design
- Integrating functionality
- Modular building
- Modular function deployment (MFD)
- Modular programming
- Modular smartphone
- Open design
- Open source hardware
- Platform technology
- Separation of concerns
- Systems engineering
- Systems design
- Baldwin and Clark, 2000
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- Allied Modular Products Allied Modular. Retrieved March 27, 2012
- "modular building".
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- Giffi 3D printed parts.
- Erixon, O.G. and Ericsson, A., "Controlling Design Variants" USA: Society of Manufacturing Engineers 1999  ISBN 0-87263-514-7 
- Clark, K.B. and Baldwin, C.Y., "Design Rules. Vol. 1: The Power of Modularity" Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press 2000 ISBN 0-262-02466-7
- Baldwin, C.Y., Clark, K.B., "The Option Value of Modularity in Design" Harvard Business School, 2002 
- Modularity in Design Formal Modeling & Automated Analysis
- "Modularity: upgrading to the next generation design architecture", an interview