ProcessLink Technical Overview

We are developing an agent-based framework consisting of generic agents and a message protocol for integrating multidisciplinary engineering software and managing distributed design projects. This framework allows us to "wrap" legacy software with backend code that will disturb the existing software interface as little as possible while providing useful coordination functions.

Our empahsis is on open process management. This differs from workflow and process re-engineering in that we record what actually occurs during a collaborative process without imposing a process definition on it. We nevertheless can offer important coordnation advice, using agents, as well as provide data for later process analysis.

We are using a "weak" agent technology in which the wrapped software become agents in that they send messages corresponding to interaction semantics, but they don't necessarily have to be "smart" or conform to any particular theory of agent construction. The only commitment is to send messages conforming to a defined set of interactions.

The Redux theory of design provides the semantics for the message protocol. The domain agents, consisting of these wrapped lecacy systems, are connected through generic domain agents, the central one being Redux', which maintains general design rationale and dependency information. The Constraint Manager works with Redux' to allow constraint propagation to work with generate, test, and backtrack, as well as integrate various constraint solvers. Plan Manager specializes the Redux model for project management. Both of these agent systems add messages and semantics to the protocol.

This project is a second-generation of the protocol messages and agents developed in the original Next-Link project. We are looking for new industrial applications to follow-on to what we learned in that earlier electrical cable harness design project.

Component Agent Descriptions

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Charles Petrie
Last modified: Thu Mar 25 15:09:45 PST 1999