Web-based collaborative environment for integrated design
The total product design process consists of several stages including the formulation of
product design specifications, conceptual design, detail design, manufacture and sales.
In recent years, the rapid development of computer technologies has greatly impacted
the product development process. In the engineering area, powerful computer-based
tools such as Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacturing
(CAM) systems enable engineers to fulfil various tasks in individual stages such as
conceptual and detail design, and manufacturing simulation. However, the increasing
complexity of modem products, cruel competition pressure and the globalisation of
product development necessitate a collaborative design environment where distributed
computer programs and dispersed experts in similar or different domains could be
collaboratively involved in a common design activity, in order to obtain high quality
and low cost product design. The key issues for establishing such a collaborative
environment are the integration and communication of the computerised design
resources with heterogeneity and distribution features.
The collaborative architecture presented in this thesis employs a combination of
CORBA with other technologies such as Java, Genetic Algorithms to integrate
engineering design programs and to enable communication between them, regardless
of languages they are written in and platforms they are ported on, and to leverage
multiple design interests. The resultant Web-based architectures have identified and
addressed three main application paradigms. Firstly, by using CORBA-Servlet, a
singular large-size program can be executed remotely with interactive features such as
parameter input, program execution and monitoring, and varieties of dynamic and rich
forms of resultant return. The developed system also facilitates multi-user management.
Secondly, Genetic Algorithms has been employed to combine the CORBA to mediate
the impacts from different domain expert considerations over the distributed
environment. In this environment, CORBA is used as an architecture for integrating multiple design applications that are heterogeneous and distributed and for enabling
them to communicating with each other, a GA-based optimiser is designed to help a
main designer to conduct gear design optimisations through invoking remote and
heterogeneous applications to meet user's complex needs. Thirdly, Applet-CORBA
based system is developed to provide a thin client model to enable users to do the
remote invocation from a Web browser, without any setting up for CORBA in advance.
As a user of this application, a designer does not need to get to know anything about
CORBA. The rich features of applet allow client developers to design varieties forms
of Web browser application, such as dynamic data, dynamic drawing, and so on.
It is found that functionalities of traditional, stand-alone, single-user computer-aided
applications can be extended by employing modem distributed object computing and
web technologies. These technologies provide cornerstone and effective support in
building scalable, extensible, and interactive distributed systems for collaborative
design, as illustrated in demonstration systems developed in the present thesis.