Although manufacturing plants dedicated to a single product exist, most plants today make multiple products. The pressure to compete via product variety and customization has served to increase the number of different products produced by a typical plant. The manufacturing systems of complex make-to-order families of products usually face problems associated with the high variability of processing times, supply deliveries and market demand. How can product design improve the performance of the manufacturing system of complex make-to-order products? In this paper we present a method, based on robust design principles and a multi-objective decision model embodied in the Robust Concept Exploration Method, to support concurrent decisions in the early stages of the design of make-to-order families of products. Emphasis is given to adopting standardization, modularity and robustness in product design as key principles to improve the performance of this kind of systems. The design of an absorber-evaporator module for a family of absorption chillers is used as an example to illustrate our approach.

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