A Computational Platform For Automated Identification Of Building Blocks In Mechanical Design For Enhancing Ideation
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Conceptual design is an early stage in the design process, in which functional requirements of a design problem are transformed into solution concepts for satisfying the requirements. It is regarded as a crucial step in design, because decisions made in this stage will strongly affect all the subsequent stages of the design process. Research evidence suggests that inspiration is useful for exploration and discovery of new solution spaces, and exploration of a wide variety of concepts increases the chances of developing more novel, and hence more creative solutions. There are various approaches to providing inspiration, e.g., creativity techniques such as trigger word technique, biomimetics such as Idea-Inspire, and computational synthesis approaches such as compositional synthesis. Computational synthesis tools are used for automated generation of concepts, which can be offered to the designer as triggers for inspiring ideation. The advantage of using solutions from computational synthesis as triggers are the following: the solutions can be produced in a relatively unbiased manner, allowing a variety of directions to be explored, and the solutions are exhaustive within the constraints of the databases or rules used, allowing a multitude of possibilities to be offered. However, computational synthesis has been traditionally used for automating solution generation, rather than creating triggers for designers’ ideation. Notwithstanding their potential for inspiring ideation, current computational synthesis approaches rarely focused on this task. One exception is FuncSION, a compositional synthesis tool, which can automatically synthesize solution concepts for mechanical devices, where a set of input and output characteristics i.e. functional requirements are provided by the user and the computer generates solutions by combining building blocks from a library to satisfy the requirements; these solutions are then used as stimuli for ideation by designers. The focus of this thesis is on evaluating and improving the effectiveness of computational synthesis in triggering ideation during conceptual design, in terms of improving the fluency and variety of the concept space produced. FuncSION has been used as the example synthesis approach on which the work has been focused. In order to evaluate the effectiveness of FuncSION in terms of fluency and variety, a method for assessing variety of a concept space is proposed, and a tool for supporting the assessment process has been developed. However, compositional synthesis research has always assumed that the building blocks are given, and has confined its focus on the process of combining the building blocks. It has not been investigated as to how such building blocks can be automatically identified. If new building blocks can be automatically identified, the resulting change in the library of building blocks would have a substantial effect on the outcomes of compositional synthesis, i.e. the triggers that can be offered to the designers for ideation, with a resulting effect on the concepts generated by the designers. Therefore, in this thesis, an automated method for building blocks synthesis has been proposed, and has been implemented as a computational tool.
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