An ontology based approach to a flexible aid for mechanical conceptual design
Small and medium sized engineering companies involved in product development are under considerable pressure, due to globalization, to reduce product development cost and time. Since such small companies typically cannot afford customised design support tools, but employ a wide range of design styles, there is a need for "flexible" (i.e. easily adaptable) design support tools. Flexibility in this context indicates that the same software tool can be adapted to a wide spectrum of design styles without requiring changes to the software's source code. The approach presented here to achieve flexibility for distributed design support systems, uses the notion of an ontology, combined with elements and relations in conceptual graphs for the database and user interface. This paper presents the implementation of these aspects in a design support system called DiDeas II (Distributed Design Assistant). It is aimed at the pre-detail design phases, and aims to allow design teams to manage their design information according to various design methods, to decrease time-delays and to improve communication between team members. The main focus of the paper is the practical implementation of an ontology based design support system, DiDeas II, but the results of preliminary evaluation in laboratory case studies are also reported.