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Product variants

Overview

In Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management there are three different product variant configuration technologies available. All three technologies use a product master as the starting point and allow the user to create many product variants for one product master.

  • Predefined variant configuration
  • Dimension-based configuration
  • Constraint-based configuration

There are advantages and disadvantages to using each of these technologies for optimising product configuration processes, which will ultimately depend on the specific industry and customer requirements.

Regardless of which technology is used, a Product dimension group must be specified on the product master record. This determines the different product dimensions and therefore the different variants available for that product. The Product dimension groups are configured via Product information management > Setup > Dimension and variant groups > Product dimension groups.

For example, if you manufacture T-shirts in different colours and sizes, you would create a product dimension group that included the Size and Colour product dimensions:

Predefined variant configuration

Predefined variants require creating a set of predetermined configurations for products. In the T-shirt example above, it may come in four sizes – small, medium, large and extra large, and three colours – red, blue and black. This is achieved by creating the available colours and sizes in the Product dimensions.

The available product dimensions are configured in Product information management > Products > Product masters and selecting the Product dimensions button.

And then creating the available size and colour options:

At this point, the available product dimensions have been created but the product variants still need to be generated. This would involve creating twelve different variants (small red, small blue, small black, medium red, etc.) and would therefore allow the users to pick from the available options when using or selling the item. Creating the product variants can be achieved manually by clicking the Product variants button, or alternatively, they can be created automatically by clicking the Variant suggestions button and selecting the product dimensions that variants should be created for – this can save lots of time if there are many variants to create.

Pros:

  • Simplicity: Predefined variants are easy to set up and manage. You create a set of predetermined configurations for products, which simplifies the configuration process for users.
  • Predictability: Since predefined variants are fixed, they ensure that customers receive consistent products with predefined options.
  • Quick Implementation: It’s relatively quick to implement predefined variants, making them suitable for straightforward product configurations.

Cons:

  • Limited Flexibility: Predefined variants lack flexibility for customers who want more customised product configurations.
  • Limited Scalability: As the number of product variations grows, managing predefined variants can become complex and unwieldy.
  • May Not Suit Complex Products: For highly configurable or customisable products, predefined variants may not provide enough options.

Dimension-based configuration

The dimension-based configuration technology is often used in an assemble-to-order scenario and best used for products with limited variability and the combination of the standard product dimensions size, colour, style, configuration and version don’t really fit for identifying a specific product variant. An example could be a bicycle with frame height, wheel size, brake types, and different gears or a desktop computer with processor types, RAM sizes, and storage types.

The general principle is that the bill of materials (BOM) is configured with all the possible component parts included, with various configurations groups, routes and rules to determine when each of those BOM lines will be included. For example, you would set up rules that when 8GB RAM is selected, the 4GB and 32GB options are deselected.

When using dimension-based configuration, the configuration product dimension must be one of the selected dimensions.

Pros:

  • Flexibility: Dimension-based configuration allows for a high degree of flexibility in creating customised products with multiple options.
  • Accurate Pricing: Dimensions can be used for accurate pricing based on the selected configurations.

Cons:

  • Complex Setup: Configuring dimension-based can be complex, particularly for products with numerous options and interdependencies.
  • Potential for Errors: Complex configurations can lead to errors if not set up correctly.
  • Requires Expertise: Implementing dimension-based configuration effectively may require expertise in product modeling and configuration rules.

Constraint-based Configuration

The constraint-based configuration technology is an advanced methodology for configuring and managing products with a high degree of complexity and interdependencies, which is often used for make-to-order scenarios.

At the core of constraint-based configuration is the use of configuration models. These models define the rules and conditions governing the product configuration process and can enforce business logic and constraints. These rules can be based on various factors, such as attribute selections, quantities, or pricing rules and can be driven by the outcomes of other attributes, for example, if a user selects “A,” then “B” and “C” are the only valid options.

The user interacts with the system through a “product configurator” interface that guides them through the process. As users make choices, the system checks against the defined rules and conditions to ensure that the configuration remains valid. At the end of the process, the system generates a bill of materials and route version on the fly that reflects the chosen options.

In theory, all the BOM and route versions could be created in advance for every permutation, but there are often many many permutations, some of which may never get used in practice. However, the user would have to select the correct version, whereas if you use the product configurator interface, the system will check to see if one already exists and only create a new version if required.

Constraint-based configuration is particularly valuable for businesses offering complex and highly configurable products. It streamlines the process of creating, pricing, and manufacturing customised products while ensuring compliance with business rules and constraints.

Pros:

  • Precise Control: Constraint-based configuration offers precise control over product configurations, ensuring that only valid options are allowed.
  • Rule-Driven: You can define complex rules and constraints to guide the configuration process, reducing errors.
  • Customisation: It allows for highly customised product configurations that meet specific customer needs.

Cons:

  • Complexity: Implementing constraint-based configuration can be complex and may require significant effort to set up and maintain.
  • Resource-Intensive: Building and managing configuration rules and constraints can be resource-intensive, both in terms of time and expertise.
  • Potentially Longer Sales Cycles: The complexity of constraint-based configurations may result in longer sales cycles as customers configure their ideal products.
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