STRUCTURING AND RETRIEVING ENGINEERING DESIGN KNOWLEDGE
Author: Japikse, Russell D.
Supervisor: Wallace, Ken
Institution: Cambridge University Engineering Department
When designing, engineering designers require access to large amounts of information. The quality and comprehensiveness of this information has a direct bearing upon the design outcome. Aware of this, many engineering design companies are actively capturing the design information that contributes to their competitive edge. The focus of this research is how this information may be structured so that it can be accessed and retrieved with greater accuracy and completeness. In pursuing this goal, the manner in which engineering designers intuitively understand and structure design information was used as a model for information structuring.
The research was conducted in three parts:
1. Pilot study – This initial study was conducted to see if designers intuitively order design information into recognisable patterns. Results from this were used to plan the main study.
2. Main study – In this study, a model of how designers intuitively structure design information was created. The uniqueness of this model was examined.
3. Validation study – The validation study measured the effect of the information structuring model upon information retrieval. A new search method, termed e-search was developed.
The results of this research were:
• Designers intuitively organise information topically, in simple, consistent patterns.
• The resulting model of the designers’ behaviour appears to be unique.
• Designers behave in a consistent and mutually compatible manner in structuring design information.
• Initial tests indicate that the e-search method works better than keyword searches.
The research conclusions are:
• The information structuring model, and the resulting search method, are well suited to industries where a mature product exists and subsequent designs build extensively upon previous experiences. It is particularly applicable to high-cost design activities where capitalising upon past knowledge is essential.
• When information is structured through the same relationships that designers use intuitively to categorise design information, an improved method for retrieving design information is possible.