Integration and communication of engineering information in collaborative design

Abstract: In recent years, the rapid development of computer technologies has greatly impacted the product development process. In the engineering area, powerful computer-based tools such as Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) systems enable engineers to fulfil various design tasks and realise product concepts in the early phase of the product development process, without physical parts actually being manufactured. However, the increasing complexity of modern products and the globalization of product development further necessitate a distributed and collaborative design environment where different computer programs and distributed experts in similar or different domains need to be collaboratively involved on a common design activity. Therefore, the integration and communication of engineering information are, amongst others, two of the most critical technical factors in ensuring successful collaboration. This thesis investigates the requirements of collaborative design and develops methods to facilitate the integration and communication of engineering information between engineering information systems in such a distributed and heterogeneous collaborative design environment. A key enabling technology in this thesis is object-relational database technology supporting an object-oriented data model and an object-oriented query language. It is found that modern database technologies not only provide direct support in effectively storing and efficiently accessing CAD data having complex structures, but also assist collaborative design activities by offering advanced database features such as a high level declarative query language, active rules, database wrapper-mediators, and peer database architecture. These features can meet the critical requirements of engineering collaborative design in terms of the integration and communication of engineering information and the interaction between distributed designers. Modern database technology has been extensively used in the thesis and is expected to play an important role in future collaborative design environments. In addition, this thesis employed CORBA – an industry standard for distributed object computing, as a key mechanism to provide object interoperability between CAD systems. Therefore, remote CAD objects and their functionalities are transparently accessed, operated, and distributed through CORBA-based interface across different platforms. It is found that functionalities of traditional, stand-alone, single-user CAD system can be extended by employing modern database technologies and distributed object computing. These technologies provide cornerstone and effective support in building scalable, extensible, easy-to-maintain, and interactive information systems supporting collaborative design, as illustrated in the demonstration systems developed in the present thesis.