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Constraint capture and maintenance in engineering design

  • Suraj Ajit (a1), Derek Sleeman (a1), David W. Fowler (a1) and David Knott (a2)

The Designers' Workbench is a system developed by the Advanced Knowledge Technologies Consortium to support designers in large organizations, such as Rolls-Royce, to ensure that the design is consistent with the specification for the particular design as well as with the company's design rule book(s). In the principal application discussed here, the evolving design is described using a jet engine ontology. Design rules are expressed as constraints over the domain ontology. Currently, to capture the constraint information, a domain expert (design engineer) has to work with a knowledge engineer to identify the constraints, and it is then the task of the knowledge engineer to encode these into the Workbench's knowledge base. This is an error-prone and time-consuming task. It is highly desirable to relieve the knowledge engineer of this task, so we have developed a system, ConEditor+, that enables domain experts themselves to capture and maintain these constraints. Further, we hypothesize that to appropriately apply, maintain, and reuse constraints, it is necessary to understand the underlying assumptions and context in which each constraint is applicable. We refer to them as “application conditions,” and these form a part of the rationale associated with the constraint. We propose a methodology to capture the application conditions associated with a constraint and demonstrate that an explicit representation (machine interpretable format) of application conditions (rationales) together with the corresponding constraints and the domain ontology can be used by a machine to support maintenance of constraints. Support for the maintenance of constraints includes detecting inconsistencies, subsumption, redundancy, fusion between constraints, and suggesting appropriate refinements. The proposed methodology provides immediate benefits to the designers, and hence, should encourage them to input the application conditions (rationales).

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