Panel's position paper for the Proceedings of

EMMSEC 97 - European Multimedia, Microprocessor Systems and Electronic Commerce

Collaborative engineering based on Web
how far to go ?


Wojciech Cellary, Dept. of Information Technology, University of Economics at Poznan, Poland
Xavier Warzee, Thomson-CSF Optronique, France
Alexander Smirnov, Institute of Informatics and Automation, Russian Academy of Sciences, St.-Petersburg, Russia
John Willis, FTL Systems Ltd, UK

Panel moderator and organiser: Adam Pawlak, BENEFIT

Keywords: information society, Internet-based collaborative engineering, WWW technologies, global engineering networks, tools over the Internet, virtual design environments, digital engineering libraries, networks, pan-European collaboration, standards.

1 Introduction
1.1 New model of engineering
1.2 Internet and WWW as enabling technologies

2 Towards collaborative engineering based on Web
2.1 CSCW - a discipline with a tradition
2.2 WWW in Internet-based collaboration
2.3 Engineering over WWW
2.3.1 New technologies and applications
2.3.2 Engineering libraries and services on Web
Collaborative engineering vs. reengineering

3. Standards for collaborative engineering

4 IT infrastructures

5 Pan-European perspective

6 Objectives of the panel



1.1 New model of engineering

Collaboration is one of the central requirements for engineering today. The shifting from the traditional manufacturing paradigm to a new, virtual and agile model is generally observed. Whereas the traditional model is characterised by the very limited information sharing, static organisational structure, and almost no co-operation among the competitors, the virtual and agile model introduces information sharing, collaboration, and dynamic organisation.

Engineering paradigms like participatory design, concurrent engineering, and total quality management all focus on teamwork [Jacobs95]. Participatory design supports co-operation between users and system designers. Concurrent engineering especially focuses on co-operation between design and production. Total quality management requires co-operation between all departments of an enterprise.

Collaborative engineering is an innovative method for product development which integrates widely distributed engineers for virtual collaboration [Cutkosky96]. The reasons for widely geographically dispersed teams are various, like: locality of certain resources and competences, or perhaps different production costs. Computer modelling is used in the whole engineering design process resulting in virtual prototypes. The high edge technology is required to assure real-time, interactive engineering process. This includes: high performance workstations with advanced visualisation and modelling software, high speed networks, and appropriate standards including those for product data representation, as well as communication.

1.2 Internet and WWW as enabling technologies

A rapid development of Internet-based technologies with steadily increasing easiness in accessing any kind of information through World Wide Web (WWW) profoundly changes engineering practice. Already, much of collaborative work is based on Internet. This includes global collaboration, as well as enterprise-wide collaboration based on Intranets. New models of work are being created with tele-working and mobile working. The unique synergy of technologies developed both, for Inter- and Intra-nets is responsible for the profound change in information infrastructures becoming available to enterprises [WET ICE96].

A group of collaborating individuals working towards a common goal has a need for accessing some shared workspace through a common interface, and for communication. The Internet with WWW provides an interface and infrastructure for world-wide access to data. Due to a low bandwidth of networks being used, communications rest fairly simple. With a higher network bandwidth, more complex interactive tasks, in real-time, could be undertaken over the Internet.

The constant progress in information and communication technologies gives however rise to expectations that by the end of century the network bandwidth will increase by the factor of 100 to 1000 [Internet2, TEN-34].

2 Towards collaborative engineering based on Web

2.1 CSCW - a discipline with a tradition

Computer supported collaborative work (CSCW) has already longer tradition [Dourish]. Collaborative work on electronic documents is well established in both academic and industrial worlds. Groupware, and messaging are well penetrating enterprises operating practices. Lotus Notes and MS Exchange are perhaps the best known products. Solutions for multiple access, real-time, messaging are available on the market.

Well established market is also due to recognised standards for Document and Electronic Data interchange. Forum for CSCW [9] lists many projects and initiatives related to CSCW.

2.2 WWW in Internet-based collaboration

World Wide Web has been conceived as a means to support collaboration among researchers, and as such proves to be extremely useful. This most often meant asynchronous collaboration, and electronic publishing. Recent developments in WWW browsers extend however systematically their characteristics. Apart from providing machine independent front-ends they support also information sharing. Synchronous collaboration tools, like video conferencing systems are entering the market

The Java network interface and execution environment has presented a new opportunity and paradigm for distributed computing and collaboration. New projects, like CoopWWW [Appelt96] aim at development of a shared workspace as a (virtual) place, where the co-operation is centred. This shared information workspace in the case of CoopWWW contains objects which are primarily electronic documents. The other project following this philosophy of extending a WWW browser with the functionality supporting collaboration, is Tango.

The Forum for CSCW lists some interesting prototype tools for collaboration based on Web.

2.3 Engineering over WWW

Engineers are just commencing to leverage the possibilities which Internet technologies can provide [IC97, Regli97], especially in complex engineering design, modelling, and verification. New design methodologies based on re-use, accompanied by appropriate standards, and tools, have to be developed in order to fully exploit the possibilities given by: an on-line access to digital engineering libraries, virtual design environments, and a simplified on-line access to engineering experts. It is expected, that the full deployment of Internet in engineering will dramatically increase productivity.

New Internet-oriented engineering applications are becoming possible due to advanced new standards and IT infrastructures.

2.3.1 New technologies and applications

The envisioned virtual design environments (tools over the Internet) in which, a designer will be able to configure his/her set of tools suiting at best his/her engineering tasks and distributed over Internet, will be available to engineers, either through Internet or on their enterprise Intranets. Work within virtual design environments will be much easier to be shared since files with engineering data will be exchanged between tools distributed over the network in new, neutral, and secure data formats. Highly complex, and proprietary engineering data needs new solutions supporting re-use, i.e., among others, and taking into account requirements of intelligent search engines (indexing). The best known example is the system WELD - Web-based Electronic Systems Design [WELD] being developed at the Univ. of California at Berkeley.

Collaborative virtual prototyping environments which support teams with shared viewing environments in combination with sophisticated communication tools have been presented at [WETICE 96]. They have a character of multi-user and multi-application shared 3D environments. In this model, 3D objects "can be joined into one scene that can be viewed by different users with independent or shared camera positions, enabling the distribution of visualisation tasks between smaller, flexible and more specialised applications", according to [WETICE 96].

Tele-immersion presents the high-end technology of virtual prototyping. Once available, it will significantly change the research and engineering paradigms. Engineers at widely dispersed places will be able to share a single virtual environment. They will be able to interact and communicate in real time. Modelled objects may have molecular, physical or economic attributes. Virtual prototypes can be: modelled, their designs reviewed, and evaluated.

Modelling over Internet using the ProActiveM technology constitutes an example from CAD/CAM/CAE domain. Bentley has built its strategy of collaborative engineering around Web with this ProActiveM technology, and with Engineering Links. The last constitute a set of tools and technologies extending the Web browsers with CAD capabilities. Active Models™ can run without re-compilation on all platforms, and are indexed in the way facilitating their search. ProActiveM is an object-oriented language, binary compatible on Bentley platforms. It's a superset of Java, thus it allows execution of Java programs within Bentley's CAD software.

Electronic systems engineering is particularly well suited for using the Internet. The first reason is the multitude of available tools covering various phases and elements of design, modelling, and verification processes. Nor single vendor is in a position to cover the complete workflow. Diversity, of highly specialised tools seems to be the destiny of this engineering domain. When accessible over the Internet, and flexibly configurable into user-specific virtual design environments, would dramatically increase engineer's efficiency.

Design of new systems on a chip is particularly well suited for new collaborative engineering technologies. Designs exceeding 10 mlns of transistors per chip would require hundreds of man-years effort if designed from scratch. The viable strategies are those based extensively on re-use. Re-use crossing the enterprise borders require however, new standards and solutions including those for intellectual properties protection.

The recently announced CAD tools which are Web-based: WELD project: SpecChart Editor, JavaSIS - logic synthesis, and optimization; Synchronicity's DESIGNSYNC™ HLD - groupware product for the management, reuse, and secure distribution of electronic design information; Viewlogic's Design Exchange provides secure design collaboration environment for geographically dispersed design teams; to name just a few.These are first academic and industrial developments in putting the Internet and Web into the engineering practice. Perhaps, it's worth to note, that all are stemming from the US.

2.3.2. Engineering libraries and services on Web

Digital engineering libraries

Digital engineering libraries are central to collaborative engineering design. Collaborative engineering effort in an Internet-based environment is based on reuse and composition (structural design). In order to enable these strategies, digital engineering libraries accessible on-line will store and appropriately organise information about engineering product types, functions, and specifications. Organisation (classification and systematisation) of engineering knowledge and expertise is needed.

Each design/product will be represented by multiple models at different levels of abstraction, and tuned for different applications. Models may be written in different languages, or represented using various formalisms, e.g. differential or algebraic equations.

Visualisation tools integrated with Web browsers helping a designer to navigate through large information sets are necessary. In addition, an engineer will require an intelligent support in searching and browsing libraries in order to find a product/model with required functionality.

Engineering-oriented services on Web

Engineering libraries require intelligent: search over and retrieve, product request, and directory services in order to support a designer in finding an appropriate product/model given a required function.

The Web-based access to information is very intuitive and very simple in case of simple, straightforward questions, e.g., "which company, which products, which components, prices and deliver times". Such queries about the products, and component types can be served easily.

More complex queries concerning the utility of available components for a specific design, their functionalities, rest without support. This is an open area to design wizards, intelligent agents, and search engines which will have some "knowledge" about the designer's task and will be able to search the libraries for appropriate for a designer solution. In very complex cases, the Internet could help providing perhaps an direct access to an human expert.

Network-based information brokers

Having access to different vendor catalogues, libraries, and services, an engineer will be again exposed to a multitude of engineering information sources. Searching on-line through all these sources may be tedious. Here, he will be supported by a new kind of information brokerage service capable of searching and retrieving the required data, as envisaged in [Fikes95].

2.4 Collaborative Engineering vs. Reengineering

Product life cycles and pay-off periods have been steadily reduced in recent years, and product complexity has been growing. Thus, it is harder and harder to meet the rapidly changing requirements using any conventional product development process. Nowadays price and quality are no longer the only relevant criteria which guarantee the economical success of a product. The right timing for a product introduction becomes more important, and this usually means that the introduction should take place as early as possible [Eversheim95].

New market opportunities require constant increase of product quality and decrease of cost in the rapidly changing environment. This trend has become prevailing during 90's. Consequently, the traditional concept of stabilised business and production processes is overshadowed by concerns about flexibility and competitiveness [Lepikson95]. In order to cope with these new paradigms, companies need to deeply transform their product development structure and the structure of business, and this also must be accompanied by on-line transformations, called reengineering.

The area of business reengineering with application of CSCW techniques such as groupware systems has been presented in [Hirsch95]. Multi-agent system technology can be considered as the basis for component integration

in co-operative reengineering process [Wooldridge95].

Products and components are often traditionally designed without considering constraints imposed by a manufacturing system. Most of the design-for-manufacturing literature does not consider constraints related to manufacturing systems, but rather deals with manufacturing processes. Based on collaborative engineering concept, a product should be designed for manufacturing systems, as much as the manufacturing systems should be designed for a product.

3. Standards for collaborative engineering

Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) are the primary forces developing new Internet and telecommunication standards. IETF leads standardisation in different Internet domains. Impulses for new standards and/or extensions are coming from many parties world-wide.

World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is leading the standardisation of WWW developing new versions of URL, HTTP (more and more powerful protocol), and HTML (assures easy to use graphical interface to Internet) standards making the Web more suitable for global information networks. Better support of collaborative work were, and is among the primary goals of W3C.

One of the reasons of the overwhelming success Internet with its Web interface is due to its very stable, and "conservative" standardisation procedure taken by the Internet community. Standards are accepted, once they are de facto standards with well understood specification and broad public support, and once a number of independent, and interoperable implementations exist on the market.

Collaborative engineering applications are among the most demanding high-speed network connections (e.g., real-time visualisation of 3D CAD), and security (proprietary engineering data). Internet Protocol, HTML the most important areas of extensions relevant for collaborative engineering.

What follows, is a short summary of standards relevant for collaborative engineering:

4. IT infrastructures

Collaborative engineering applications are currently restricted to high speed LANs, if applied on a global, or European scale they require new IT infrastructures. Recent undertakings in this domain relevant for R & D in collaborative engineering include the European TEN-34 project [TEN-34], and the US universities Internet2 initiative [Internet2] which should be mentioned here to give an appropriate perspective. Although both projects are initially targeted at academic communities, and R & D in the leading companies, eventually the whole Internet communities will profit from them, as it was already in the Internet past.

TEN-34 - Trans-European Network interconnect at 34 Mbit/sec, launched in May this year, is the first high-speed pan-European network connecting already existing national research networks. It provides a true breakthrough in European high-performance networking which enables research in global collaborative engineering using advanced multimedia and real-time applications. Later, in 1998 an upgrade of TEN to 155 Mbit/sec is foreseen.

The network technology applied in TEN-34 comprises the classical IP-based technology using the pan-European 34 Mbit/sec backbone, and an experimental European ATM network. ATM is particularly well suited for collaborative, real-time applications due to its possibility of flexible bandwidth assignment.

Internet2, an initiative of a consortium of US universities which targets build-up of a high speed network capable to operate at speeds between 100 and 1,000 times faster than today's Internet. Participating universities will be connected at the speeds higher than 600 Mbit/sec, up to 2.4 gigabit/sec. Internet2 will assure differentiated communication services, like: a guaranteed bounded delay, low data loss, and high capacity. This will include: a multicast data delivery, i.e. instead of transmitting through the Internet the multiple copies of identical packets, the packets are multiplied at the local network level only. Internet2 will deploy new protocols including RSVP and RTP (quality of service protocols), and the IPv6, all developed by IETF.

5 Pan-European perspective

This technological breakthrough creates a special situation in Europe where a few years after a dramatic changes in the political scene, a special momentum [Forum EU/CEE on Information Society] exists for consolidation of pan-European engineering and research efforts.

A few ESPRIT projects already work in this area, to mention only: CEDAS (Concurrent Engineering Design Advisor System), TOCEE (Toward a Concurrent Engineering Environment in the building and engineering structures industry), MATES (Multimedia Assisted distributed Tele-Engineering Services), and GENIAL (GEN -Global Engineering Networks programme).

The very first conclusion one can draw from the study of European scenario of the field is that the awareness about the possibilities offered by the new technologies, especially in the domain of large scale collaborative engineering, is either missing, or not shared equally on the pan-European level. There are however signs that the major industrial companies in EU express considerable interest in using the collaborative engineering to acquire additional engineering capabilities. Companies envision Central and East European (CEE) engineers working real-time with their own companies engineers on CAD/CAM/CAE engineering projects with real-time image and voice sharing, thus creating at least a partial virtual engineering staff. CEE partners expressed interest because it does not deprive their countries of intellectual capital through out-migration, yet permits real-time joint projects, bringing foreign capital into CEE economy.

Internet-based collaborative engineering, once widely applied, would represent a substantial concentration of human resources, information, and computational and communications technology in Europe. As such, it could be expected to have an effect upon developments in science, engineering, and technology, as well as, the promotion of international commercial endeavours.

6 Objectives of the panel

To summarise, the panel discussion will intend to:


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