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Enabling Decision Support and Costing of Product Designs by using Visual Metaphors
Pre Print - Journal of Design Research
Special Issue: Fostering Innovation during Early Informal Design Phases
P Hale, R Marsh, C Bru, J Lanham
Aerospace Manufacturing Research Centre
Faculty of Computing, Engineering & Mathematical Sciences
University of the West of England
Bristol BS16 1QY
The Systems Engineering Estimation and Decision Support (SEEDS) team is part of the Aerospace Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) at the University of the West of England Bristol (UWE). SEEDS expertise is in working with aerospace organisations to apply techniques in managing, categorising and visualising information to support costing of products within the aerospace sector.
This paper outlines techniques used, in order to enable decision support during product development, whilst minimising dependence on specialist software and detailed programming effort. The basis of this is an Ontology that can be visualised and edited in tree form. The open standard Stanford University Ontology tool Protégé is being used for this purpose. This Ontology can be translated into a commercial Decision Support tool called DecisionPro. Software created using DecisionPro allows calculations of the cost of a design, and provides a colour-coded representation of the product tree. It is then possible to output this tree in the form of web pages, interactive diagrams and code in programming languages such as Engineous' Java based costing tool Cost Estimator. It is possible to search the information both in Protégé and on the Web as it is represented using searchable semantic web languages.
The SEEDS team has undertaken a number of projects in recent years with key regional aerospace companies. These projects created systems to facilitate management of design and cost related knowledge within those organisations, with the aim of using this knowledge to reduce the costs of manufacturing products. Arising from these projects, which have used a combination of proprietary software solutions and bespoke software developed for the projects, the SEEDS team have identified a number of new areas for work – specifically the approach of User Driven Programming (UDP). This research unites approaches of Object Orientation, the Semantic Web, and Relational Databases and event driven programming. The advantages of increasing user involvement in software development are explained by [Olsson].
When engineering organisations design and manufacture products they categorise this process into stages. From the early concept stage to the final design stage and manufacture, software is used to aid and record the process. It is common for different software to be used at different stages. If the software applications do not use open standards languages to communicate between these stages and between the various teams involved information gets lost and not re-used as the chain of information breaks. The detail and accuracy of the information that can be provided to define the product varies along this chain. The best opportunities for cost reduction are early in the product life cycle, so it is important to gather together any information that is available on that component and any similar products. It is important that users who enter information about a design concept be guided by historical values where possible and guidance information such as explanations, diagrams, and examples. The use of statistical modelling is necessary to ensure a cost can be calculated at this early stage when there is a high level of uncertainty. Validated information for products can be held in a catalogue for case based reasoning.
This paper is based on work undertaken to establish a way of representing information relating to the design and production of a wing box. The approach of developing decision support models for design and costing using a spreadsheet is compared and contrasted with the alternative approach of using open standards ontologies and software. The paper begins with an explanation of the spreadsheet approach and explains the approach used since. The paper gives a critical evaluation of the spreadsheet the team created. It then outlines the alternative approach and justifies this as solving the modelling problem more effectively. This approach involves creating structured taxonomies that would eventually be part of an overall ontology of information relating to aerospace, and the automated generation of software to access and process this information. This approach could also be used for other types of modelling problem. Finally the paper explains how this alternative approach could be applied to a wide range of other problems.
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