PhD Thesis

Constraint-Aided Conceptual Design

Barry O'Sullivan
Department of Computer Science
University College Cork, Ireland
July 1999


The product development process is concerned, not only with the design of products, but with how these products are manufactured, distributed and serviced. Engineering conceptual design can be defined as that phase of the product development process during which the designer takes a specification for a product to be designed and generates many broad solutions to it. Each of these broad solutions is, generally, referred to as a scheme. Each scheme should be sufficiently detailed such that the means of performing each function in the design has been fixed, as have any critical spatial and structural relationships of the principal components. It is generally accepted that while conceptual design is one of the most critical phases of the product development process few computer tools exist which provide support to designers working in this stage of the product development process.

The thesis defended in this dissertation is that constraint processing offers a sufficiently rich basis for supporting the human designer during engineering conceptual design. A new systematic theory of the conceptual phase of engineering design is presented upon which a constraint-based approach to supporting the human designer is developed. This approach is based upon an expressive and general technique for modelling the design knowledge which a designer can exploit during a design project, the life-cycle environment which the final product faces, the design specification which defines the set of requirements which the product must satisfy and the structure of the various schemes that are developed by the designer. A computational reasoning environment based on the notion of constraint filtering is proposed which forms the basis of an interactive design support tool which can be used to assist a human designer working in the conceptual phase of design. Using this interactive design support tool the designer can be assisted in developing constraint-based models of proposed schemes which satisfy the various constraints that are imposed on the design.

The primary contribution of this research is that it provides a complete approach to supporting the human designer during the conceptual phase of engineering design. The approach presented here not only addresses the issue of modelling and reasoning about the design of products from an abstract set of requirements, but it also demonstrates how life-cycle knowledge can be incorporated into the conceptual design of a product and how alternative schemes can be compared.

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  • BibTeX entry:
    @PhDThesis{       OSullivan:99,
      author        = {O'Sullivan, Barry Alan},
      title         = {Constraint-Aided Conceptual Design},
      year          = {1999},
      month         = {July},
      school        = {Department of Computer Science, University College Cork, Ireland},
      note          = {}

This dissertation has been published as a book by Professional Engineering Publishing as part of their Engineering Research Series. Return to Barry's Homepage