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Interdisciplinary Communication Medium (ICM)

Multidisciplinary Concurrent Engineering Through Shared Graphics
Abstract. The objective of this project is to develop a computer environment which will improve the communication among designers in an interdisciplinary team. We present a Propose-Interpret-Critique-Explain (PICE) paradigm as the communication cycle for collaborative conceptual design. We explore and test the PICE conceptualization by modeling it with a software prototype, ICM , that integrates graphic representations of a shared 3D model of and AI reasoning tools about, the evolving design. ICM provides a graphic environment as the central interface to reasoning tools, to support design. The graphic environment enables designers to explore the toplevel functional object definition of the future device , as well as the AutoCAD form model of the device. The goal of the ICM prototype is to help improve the quality of design by supporting: (1) improved concurrent engineering, (2) increased number of explored alternatives, (3) multi-criteria evaluation, (4) reduced product design cycle, (5) capture of design intent, (6) smooth electronic transition to later stages of product development.

This document is currently under construction.


Initial Conclusions

Integration and Interoperability are Necessary and Now Possible!

Problem Statement

Traditionally, there has been much difficulty in communicating

Consequently the quality of designs is decreased by:

Research Description


Improve early real-time cross-disciplinary communication of multi-criteria design intents, decisions, and probles.


Collaborative Concurrent Conceptual Design


Provide support for dynamic changes and multidisciplinary information needs in mechatronic design.

Research Tasks:

Models in the Graphic and Symbolic World

Throughout the design process, designers use Form, Function and Behavior models in both the graphic and the symbolic world. The graphic world plays a central role in exploring, editing, documenting, and explaining design intents. The symbolic world plays a central role in reasoning and evaluating the design. One of the main objectives of this research is to explore the link between these two worlds in the mechatronic domain. Publication

PICE - Design Communication Cycle

Throughout the design process, designers

Linking Graphic and Symbolic Models in the PICE Communication Cycle

Propose. Designers propose solutions for a mechatronic device using a shared 3D graphic model.

Interpret. The interpretation activity results in the identification of relevant features of the shared 3D graphic model within a specific discipline context. The interpretation is represented by semantic annotation of the CAD graphic entities with their meaning within the selected discipline context.

Critique. The critique activity uses knowledge-based analysis and evaluation of a symbolic discipline model to derive the behavior and to compare the behavior to functional requirements.

Explain. The explanation capability is currently being implemented. It represents a symbolic trace of the performance problems and suggestions for design modifications, as well as the visualization of the problems projected back onto the graphic model.

Illustrative Example

In order to illustrate the potential use of the proof-of-concept prototype we use as a test case an example selected from 1992/1993 ME210 projects. This is the Automobile Door Cinching project sponsored by GM. Many different systems interact within the limited space inside the car doorframe. With limited space available, the challenge of adding another subsystem to the door quickly becomes a packaging problem.

The goal of this project was to design and build a door latch system that combines the functions of latch, power lock and cinching into a single assembly. The proposed solution is shown by the schematic subsystem interaction of the automobile door cinching system.

ICM System Integration and Interoperability Architecture

The Interdisciplinary Communication Medium (ICM) tighly integrates graphic representation and AI reasoning about the evolving design.

Graphic CAD systems provide a form modeler and a visualization tool for proposing and modiying a design. Knowledge-based systems provide symbolic environments for reasoning about the function and behavior of the design.

ICM Prototype

ICM uses a central, shared 3D graphic model which is connected to multiple symbolic models that provide automated reasoning about the design from multiple discipline contexts. The connections between the graphic model and the symbolic models are modular, allowing symbolic context models to be added or removed independently of other models.

ICM uses AutoCAD to store the central graphic model. Within AutoCAD we have used AutoLisp, DCL and ADS C functions to build the interpretation capabilities. The symbolic models have been developed in Prokappa, which is an object-oriented knowledge engineering environment.

Exploring the Cinch Device with ICM

Toplevel Module for Functional Object Definition

AutoCAD Toplevel Functional Object Definition
Click on the drawing to view it full size

AutoCAD Cinch Model
Click on the drawing to view it full size

Drive Train KB

Motor KB

Circuit Designer

AutoCAD Electrical Circuit of the Cinch Switch Model
Click on the drawing to view it full size


Improve quality of design

  • Improve concurrent engineering
  • Increase number of explored alternatives
  • Support multi-criteria evaluation of design
  • Reduce product design cycles
  • Capture design intent
  • Smooth electronic transition to later stages of product development

Plans for Initial Testing, Tech Transfer, Next Steps


  • Demo feedback from Cinch project team members
  • ICM sheell testing with ME210 teams
  • PICE cycle testing with one ME210 team

Tech Transfer

  • SIMA project liaison and other industry affiliates
  • Workshops on Concurrent Multi-disciplinary Engingeering
    • Summer Workshop for SIMA Affiliates, sponsored by SIMA, July 14-15, 1994
    • Hughes Workshop, sponsored by Hughes Aerospace, November 10-11, 1994

Expected Contributions

  • We elaborate and formalize a theory of interdisciplinary communication as a Propose-Interpret-Critique-Explain cycle.
  • We tightly integrate graphic and symbolic modeling.
  • The research includes technical integration:
    • Open system integration architecture that allows addition or removal of different reasoning modules as needed.
    • Central graphic modeling environment that enables sharing of 3D graphic model of the product.
    • Semantic modeling and exchange of non-graphic information that supports interoperability.

Continuing Research Goals

  • Test the generality of the modeling capabilities of the ICM shell by re-using it within the mechatronic system design domain
  • Define mechanism for re-use of engineering knowledge
  • Associate textual suggestions with graphic model
  • Implement a more robust software environment
  • ...


Larry Leifer
- Principal Invetigator

Renate Fruchter
- Research Associate

George Toye
- Research Associate

Mark Clayton - Ph.D. Candidate, CE Department

Madhu Prasad
- Master Student, ME Department

Kurt Reiner
- Ph.D. Candidate, ME Department

Omar Tawakol - Master Student, ME Department

Mark Tsai
- Post-Master Student, AA Department

Renate Fruchter