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Interoperability and Visualization of Complex Products Based on JT Standard

  • prostep ivip Association

Abstract and Figures

With their response to the market and regulatory challenges, modern enterprises have introduced and continuously improved processes, methods and tools to feed the individual needs of their business domains, multidisciplinary teams and supply chain, mastering the growing complexity of virtual product development. As far as product data are concerned, data exchange, 3D visualization and communication are key processes for reusing manufacturing intelligence across lifecycle stages. User-friendly access to the increasing amount of information plays an essential role in business and leisure. Several CAD interoperability and visualization formats meanwhile have been developed to support product development strategies. Such activities also include national and international associations and standardization bodies. The emerged methods and systems aim to increase the performance, acceptance, and user experience of graphical data representations for a broad range of users. This paper analyses methods and tools used in virtual product development to leverage 3D CAD data in the entire life cycle. It presents a set of versatile concepts for mastering exchange, aware and unaware visualization and collaboration from single technical packages fit purposely for various domains and disciplines.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Interoperability and Visualization of
Complex Products Based on JT Standard
Abstract. With their response to the market and regulatory challenges, modern
enterprises have introduced and continuously improved processes, methods and
tools to feed the individual needs of their business domains, multidisciplinary
teams and supply chain, mastering the growing complexity of virtual product
development. As far as product data are concerned, data exchange, 3D
visualization and communication are key processes for reusing manufacturing
intelligence across lifecycle stages. User-friendly access to the increasing amount
of information plays an essential role in business and leisure. Several CAD
interoperability and visualization formats meanwhile have been developed to
support product development strategies. Such activities also include national and
international associations and standardization bodies. The emerged methods and
systems aim to increase the performance, acceptance, and user experience of
graphical data representations for a broad range of users. This paper analyses
methods and tools used in virtual product development to leverage 3D CAD data
in the entire life cycle. It presents a set of versatile concepts for mastering
exchange, aware and unaware visualization and collaboration from single technical
packages fit purposely for various domains and disciplines.
Keywords. 3D, Visualization, Collaboration, Exchange, JT, STEP, PDF
The gradual cyberization of physical products and predominantly the introduction of
Computer Aided Systems have triggered a digital transformation movement in
Manufacturing. Applying 3D CAD and PLM strategies has fundamentally led to higher
productivity, better quality and a simultaneous reduction of overall development time
and costs [1].
Meanwhile, product development methods such as Concurrent Design,
Simultaneous Engineering and Systems Enginnering have widely been adopted [2].
They tend to manage complex development tasks in such a way that independent units
can be processed concurrently to build an optimal technical solution designed for a
complex issue. They ensure inherent behavior of each unit as well as system-wide
interactions according to weighted objectives [3] [4].
The principle advantages provided with above-mentioned methods and tools have
likewise contributed to growing complexity. Combined with various domain- and
organization-specific software applications available with new product development
trends, the pace of changes, the amount of data and the quantity of knowledge inserted
in virtual product data are now reaching exponential growth [5] [6] [7].
1 Corresponding Author, E-Mail:
Transdisciplinary Engineering: Crossing Boundaries
M. Borsato et al. (Eds.)
© 2016 The authors and IOS Press.
This article is published online with Open Access by IOS Press and distributed under the terms
of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License 4.0 (CC BY-NC 4.0).
Attaining better performance and accuracy while providing product data to the
right party in the context of his current application is essential for greater time-to-
market. As de-facto reference of the physical product, from which downstream data are
derived, the 3D product representation deserves a particular interoperability attention
[8]. Modern organizations thus invest in activities required to achieve seamless
experience with 3D data across applications, disciplins and supply chains [9]. These
main activities are: the exchange of product relevant data across aforementioned layers;
the visualization of cyberized products with purposely disclosure of source intents and
the communication [10][11][12].
Mastering quality, product design and configurations, bill of materials, changes
and releases requires an overall product and process integration, which takes care of
differences in coordination workflows [13], engineering domains, methods and tools of
the different parties participating at product life, while safegarding all current
investments (Figure 1) [14][15][16].
The paper is organized as follows. In section 1, the business challenges in
interoperability and visualization are briefly described. Section 2 discusses in more
detail the current approaches for 3D-based collaboration. Deployment of JT and
practical experiences is highlighted in section 3. Section 4 contains a summary and
ideas for further research.
1. Business challenges in interoperability and visualization
In the past several interoperability data formats arose. There are basically two primary
types of formats: proprietary and open formats.
Proprietary formats are vendor-specific. They are used to describe product data in
the majority of authoring tools in the marketplace. Descriptions of these formats are
generally regarded as intellectual property by the software vendors and are suitably
protected. Due to their lack of openness they are essentially less appropriate for
collaboration in the extended enterprise. They will no longer be considerered in the
context of this paper.
Figure 1. Potential application of 3D formats during product lifecycle.
On the other hand open formats are often designed to enable interoperability
between applications. They provide descriptions which are openly specified and
R. Beckers et al. / Interoperability and Visualization of Complex Products 829
accessible to third-parties (application vendors and customers), who wish to make data
available from and to their own applications. Open formats and particularly standards
ratified by a recognized international organization are stable by nature and may slowly
evolve [17]. Open standards however, enable the reduction of total cost of ownership
and ensure independence from specific vendors by making sure that the data they
encapsulate is always capable of being leveraged downstream and recoverable from an
archive repository [18].
It hereby goes without saying that formats such as IGES, DXF, STEP, 3D XML or
JT are being widely accepted and have helped to improve dynamics in product
development [19][20].
IGES defines a vendor-neutral file format by information structures for the digital
representation and exchange of information like product definition data. It supports
exchange of geometric, topological, and non-geometric product data beneath
CAD/CAM systems such as: administrative identifications, design or analysis idealized
models, shapes, processing and presentation information. It is used for applications
such as traditional engineering drawings and design as well as models for simulation
The development of STEP started in 1984 as a worldwide collaboration. The initial
plan was to define a mechanism that is capable of describing product data throughout
the lifecycle of a product, independent from any particular system. This type of attempt
was made for the very first time. By nature of its specification STEP is suitable not
only for neutral file exchange, but also as a basis for implementing and sharing product
databases and archiving.
Typically STEP can be used to exchange data between CAD (computer-aided
design, CAM (computer-aided manufacturing), CAE (computer-aided engineering),
PDM (product data management)/EDM (engineering data management) and other CAx
systems. STEP appeals product data from mechanical and electrical design, geometric
dimensions and tolerances, analysis and manufacturing, with additional information
specific to various industries such as automotive, aerospace, building construction [21],
ship building [22], oil and gas, process plants and others. Unlike modern formats like
e.g. JT, STEP has not the option “lightweight” representations of a product or object,
nor does it concern itself with compression. This makes STEP not first choice for
visualization in downstream processes.
STEP is the most important and largest effort ever established in the engineering
domain and has replaced various CAD exchange that were used prior to the widespread
industrial acceptance of STEP. It is developed and maintained by the ISO technical
committee TC 184.
The JT format described in ISO 14306:2012 is used mainly in industrial use cases
as the means for capturing and repurposing lightweight 3D product definition data [20].
The development of the binary file format JT started in 1990. It is used as both a data
exchange format between design partners and manufacturers, as well as for
visualization applications such as digital preassembly (also called digital mock-up or
DMU) [23] and generalized visualization, more commonly referred to as
view/measure/mark-up (VMM).
Due to its container structure JT shows “duality”: it is able to be used in cases
where data exchange from one application to a second, as well as in cases where
visualization is desired.
JT is actively used with fast rising trend. As of today several millions of JT files
are managed in automotive PDM systems alone covering a multitude of engineering
R. Beckers et al. / Interoperability and Visualization of Complex Products830
use cases. It has emerged to a major 3D format in automotive collaboration, which
requires a particular interoperability focus to maintain the stringent process and quality
requirements of its different applications [24].
As a matter of fact, among all the aforementioned proprietary and open formats,
none delivers overall versatility and capabilities by its own to equally sustain the varied
demands of collaboration [25] in the extended enterprise and further, beyond product
development stages of product lifecycle (Figure 2). Either they are not easily accessible
or they do not have sufficient capacity for sharing dissimilar representations of same
product (e.g. 2D/3D CAD, CAM, BoM, etc) across different applications, domains and
teams. Or they aren’t providing sufficient tools and SDKs to support and adapt the
collaboration experience. Or their industrial use is very low or they just are not ratified
by a recognized standards body, which makes them strategically unsustainable for
modern organizations.
Figure 2. Schematics for Use Case Structure.
The industrial application of these 3D formats have moreover been around the
transport of specific data sets mainly for the purpose of visualization, data exchange or
bulk migration (Figure 2) in downstream processes, whose underlying goals are
presentation and transformation of native 3D CAD geometry from an authoring
application into an alternative format. The resulting data is finally translated into a
proprietary format of a third party application for use in e.g. design, validation, and
viewing or long term archiving.
Normally and as far as engineering collaboration is concerned, different parts
describing an affected request and their virtual product data are delivered through
diverse channels and towards quite a lot of authoring systems; be it a request for
information, work, change or approval. E-mail, CAD and various data exchange
applications as well as a bunch of data communication channels are also used [26].
Basically, this approach is a limitation to leveraging product data across lifecycle
stages, domains and supply chains, because the necessary information is supplied in
disconnected parcels. They have to be collected systematically, and re-aligned to each
other on reception to effectively consume them. In many cases, they have to be
R. Beckers et al. / Interoperability and Visualization of Complex Products 831
translated into the workspace of the receiver. The missing link between these parcels,
though, is an issue that leads for many organizations to unnecessary bureaucracy. As
far as manufacturing is concerned, this means that the development partners must
support several systems and configurations and are additionally busy adapting and
integrating data instead of using them right away.
2. Current approaches for 3D-based collaboration
Lifecycle Collaboration should be more versatile than providing chunks of data [27]. It
is more than disconnected product structure, visualization or 3D design! It is the logical
combination of all relevant data flows put in context with a recipient consuming these
data to better perform a set of product development tasks. Under this consideration,
research and industrial communities are investigating approaches incorporating
different types of information [25].
Pushing the practical penetration of JT in engineering downstream has enormous
potential for manufacturing. Regarding this, there is one effort the first of its kind
aiming at the smart combination of the two international standards STEP and JT to
establish a process oriented solution for supporting automotive data exchange
requirements, which incorporates not only 3D visualization but also process relevant
capabilities. The manufacturing community has recognized that JT itself can only reach
its full potential by applying it in combination with smart XML functionalities of the
Application Protocol (AP) 242 of the STEP standard [24]. In this perspective, STEP
AP 242 should become the process backbone for e.g. assembly, metadata and kinetic,
whereas JT is enabler for lightweight visualization of 3D data.
Detailed information hereto can be found within the JT Workflow Forum (JT-WF)
[28], a joint project group established by the ProSTEP iViP Association and the VDA
(German Association of the Automotive Industry) in 2005. The objective of the forum
is to drive the requirements relating to the application of JT and the accompanying
format STEP AP242 XML, to validate them, to document the processes in use cases
and to harmonize the necessary characteristic of the used JT as well STEP AP242
XML data content. JT Workflow Forum has already described 32 use cases for
implementation [28]. One of the most important drivers for future development and
deployment of JT is Daimler, where JT is the central resource for provision of 3D data
(Figure 3).
The advantages provided with JT however do not have a life cycle coverage yet.
Still today, most organizations are seeking for concepts and best practices in reusing
their product data not only in product engineering but e.g. also in facility, product
planning and manufacturing execution, where STEP and other formats for instance are
already applicable. This situation is enforced with lack of standards for data exchange
and interfaces between cross-domain systems used there, which are fundamental for
collaboration with external partners in production (digital manufacturing).
The lack of direct support for JT causes for instance requests for translation to
perform machining operations.
The recommendation 4953-2 is an implementation proposal of the German
Automotive Association (VDA), which describes concepts and means to replace the
conventional 2D drawing (as a leading carrier of product information) by
documentations on the basis of a technical data container [29]. The scope of this
recommendation is a document-based container, which includes mandatory and
R. Beckers et al. / Interoperability and Visualization of Complex Products832
optional contents with 3D data streams and their linked technical metadata. The aim is
to eliminate the need existing in many areas of derivation and management of 2D-
based collaboration and technical documentation.
This guideline describes the structure and management of product data embedded
in a technical container as well as its architecture. A 3D content with annotated
geometry representation is one of the main compulsory content having attached JT
(ISO 14306) files as recommended 3D carrier. A structured metadata content, which
isn’t embedded into but linked with the 3D content, is building a second mandatory
part of the proposal. VDA 4953-2 recommends STEP AP242 BO XML-Format (ISO
10303-242) for storing metadata and PDF/A (ISO 19005) for presentation inside the
container. Optional contents can be embedded and should be of any file format that can
be used for long-term archiving.
Figure 3. Scenarios and processes for JT deployment at Daimler.
Based on a similar concept, a further German automotive OEM Volkswagen has
published and presented such a container using PDF as container and JT for storing 3D
product data. An external viewer is launched interactively to present and query 3D JT
objects such as PMI and technical descriptions from the PDF/A presentation layer.
Meanwhile, it is used as a basic tool for various internal downstream processes.
One development approach alongside PLM, which declares the 3D CAD model as
the record of authority and the source for which all other documentation flows is
Model-Based-Design (MBD). By emphasizing digital CAD file use for collaboration at
the beginning of development, it is the ground for a fully integrated and collaborative
environment founded on a 3D model based definition detailed, documented and shared
across the enterprise to enable rapid, seamless, and affordable deployment of products
from concept to disposal [30]. Thus, Model-Based Definition (MBD) is a concept of
managing engineering and manufacturing information using 3D models as primary
source and record of authority of all other product data related to design, process
planning, manufacturing, test, services and overall product lifecycle [18] [31]. MBE in
its core is truly not pushing a format or a tool [32]. It is rather defining a “3D Master”
with its associated descriptions and technical files to push interoperability one step
R. Beckers et al. / Interoperability and Visualization of Complex Products 833
further. It thus can be implemented with various standard formats such as STEP, JT or
These particular interoperability formats are selected by various manufacturing
organizations to achieve the vision of a Model Based Enterprise at numerous levels:
which basically is reducing the significant manual intervention in the supply chain to
go from product design through product lifecycle downstream such as manufacturing
or quality inspection.
Despite the industry MBE vision to become model-centric, 2D drawings is still
playing a fundamental role for technical documentation between OEMs and their
suppliers. Many among them still exchange design data in the form of full-annotated-
2D drawings combined with 3D-shape-geometry model. Only a small percentage of the
manufacturing actors use just a 3D model with embedded 3D-PMI partly due to
following barriers [33]:
2D Drawing is still considered the master versus the 3D Model by many in
There is a significant learning curve to effectively embed PMI into a 3D CAD.
There is an overall supply chain work to consider before adopting 3D PMI in
the development process.
Many application program interfaces (API’s) do not adequately support
downstream processes due to lack of PMI.
VDA recommendation 4953-2 in chapter [29] is an instantiation of the model-
based design principles.
3. Deployment of JT and practical experiences
In the past few years JT was widely adopted by many global enterprises, in particular
in the automotive industry. They have built a JT-based infrastructure which allows that
each authorized user can access the JT data during the product lifecycle. Large
enterprises report on successful implementation and deployment [34]. Among others,
JT is primarily used in the following downstream processes: Design in Context, Data
analysis, Multi-CAD, High-end visualization, Supplier Integration, Geometrical search,
Assembly validation/DMU, Archiving.
In combination with STEP AP242 XML, JT has become a powerful means for
support of many engineering tasks, as reported from interviewed users (Figure 4) [28].
Users are unanimous in their assumption that approximately 30 percent of the costs
currently incurred for CAD licenses can be saved permanently as the result of
introducing the neutral standard format. This is especially true for companies who are
forced, for various reasons, to implement a number of different CAD systems. Some of
these implementations may then no longer be needed, provided the exchange of data
with partners and customers for certain purposes can be changed over entirely to JT.
Data exchange between native formats often results in the need for reconditioning
to correct any transfer errors. Once an agreement regarding the use of JT has been
reached, the number of transfers required between native formats will be subject to a
significant decrease. This means that the amount of work currently required for
reconditioning the data from internal and external partners will also decrease markedly.
The smaller size of the JT files and the simple, often automatic, conversion make it
much easier and at the same time faster to exchange data between different CAD
R. Beckers et al. / Interoperability and Visualization of Complex Products834
systems, for instance for design in context. However, the size of the JT file heavily
depends on its configuration.
Figure 4. Exchange of kinematics data via STEP AP242 XML.
All those involved expect the processes that can be supported in the future as a
result of the availability of JT to improve dramatically and, above all, be easier to use.
The ability to rely on not words but visual support across departmental borders, in non-
technical process and via the Internet will release a considerable amount of energy that
was previously inevitably required to search for data, explain documents and
disseminate information. In the same way that NetMeeting supports telephone and
video conferences and 3D-PDF allows the creation and processing of a wide variety of
documents, so can JT become a core element in collaboration scenarios that involve
engineering data.
4. Conclusions and outlook
This contribution has addressed the state of the art activities for establishing JT as
universal process format for interoperability and visualization of complex products. 3D
interoperability is an important contribution to engineering collaboration. Several
formats made to for this purpose successively deal with challenges of their time. Some
of these such as STEP are very detailed formats, which gradually encapsulate all
information necessary to define a product, its manufacture, and lifecycle support.
Others focus mainly on lightweight visualization use cases and endure better with
increasing size and complexity of data. The status of JT is very promising. Its
application has reached high level of maturity with a eco-system consisting of
developers, adopters and users. However, in the era of lean and agile, seamless
collaboration needs continuous planning [35].
There are further requirements for 3D formats for the visualization and
downstream processes, and complementary formats in order to exchange meta-data,
structure data and kinematics data as well as open and standardized formats to reduce
total cost of ownership and to minimize dependency of single vendors. As shown in
Figure 5, the exemplary scenario for exchange of product structure, geometry and
R. Beckers et al. / Interoperability and Visualization of Complex Products 835
meta-data expresses that the data exchange based on JT and STEP AP242 XML is
possible with few weak points (translation and proper interpretation of attributes).
Figure 5. Data exchange scenario with JT and STEP AP242 XML.
Further implementation and integration of remaining use cases with the
accompanying format STEP AP242 is the major forthcoming task for JT development.
In version 2.0 JT will adopt further representations of geometry model. Further
development is preserved by international bodies which include implementer fora.
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The proposed approach in the paper is dedicated to enrichment of CAD models storage in PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) systems or archive databases. The paper considers low level CAD models (i.e. frozen geometry and without CAD model tree) based on standards such as STL, IGES and STEP AP203 first edition where the CAD model tree is absent. The paper also highlights the differences in semantic richness between these standards and their degrees of industrial implementation. STEP AP242 standard is considered as a high level representation for CAD files. The paper aims to review the literature that addresses the methods for semantic enrichment of CAD models by using ontologies. The future challenges and one possible research direction are then discussed. A first application called VAQUERO for CAD enrichment using an ontology based on STEP AP242 standard is proposed.
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Design is a kind of highly complex activities with a large number of coupling relationships existing among essential design factors and design resources. This paper investigates the approach and mechanism of distributed design resources integration and binding in collaborative design process based on service-oriented architecture. A SORCER-based collaborative design environment is presented. An essential design factors matrix is designed as the binding mechanism to drive distributed design resources integration process during the design tasks execution time. Then, a coupling analysis method fordesign service modelling and execution is proposed. In order to build a multi-resolution coupling model in the local and global size, an essential design factors binding matrix and an essential design factors matrix group are adopted to express the internal relationships between design services. A hybrid approach, based on the partitioning operation, clustering operation and the genetic algorithm, are used to solve the coupling sets for global essential design factors.
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To face an increasingly competitive environment within a globalization context, and to focus on core highadded value business activities, enterprises have to establish partnerships with other companies specialized in complementary domains. Such an approach, primarily based on optimization of the value chain, is called virtualization of the Enterprise. Enterprises relying on virtualization, sub-contracting and outsourcing have to coordinate activities of all the partners, to integrate the results of their activities, to manage federated information coming from the different implied information systems and to re-package them as a product for the clients. The adopted organization, which is considering as well as the internal and external resources, is called “Extended Enterprise”. Nevertheless, in such complex emerging networked organizations, it is more and more challenging to be able to interchange, to share and to manage internal and external resources such as digital information, digital services and computer-enacted processes. In addition, digital artifacts produced by enterprise activities are more and more heterogeneous and complex. After characterizing expected interoperability for collaborative platform systems and highlighting interoperability issues and brakes not yet addressed, this chapter describes an innovative approach to build interoperability based on a Federated Framework of legacy eBusiness standards of a given ecosystem. It implies facing important issues related to semantic preservation along the lifecycle of the artifacts and infrastructures required to define and exploit an application. We present two use case studies that apply interoperability strategies.
The modern practise in small companies makes product development a distributed action,which causes communication problems. Internet-based collaboration software is developed for large companies and seems incapable of handling communication problems in distributed projects of smaller companies. Because of the constructive nature of product development, the most important property of project data is visibility. Every member of interest groups should be able to use his/her standard workstation to explore the project data. Product data should be represented using VRML models, PDF documents and HTML-based hypertext structures. Data representing the project plan and current situation should also be as visible as possible. Also, communication including asynchronous feedback and synchronous communication should be visual, including redlining and text boxes in graphical feedback devices.
The definition of system metrics is crucial to determine if a manufacturing system design is truly effective because inappropriate metrics can lead to ineffective or improperly-focused system improvements. This research highlights the importance of measuring the effectiveness of the system design that contributes to system effectiveness. The authors propose the use of a Manufacturing System Design Evaluation Tool to assess the effectiveness of the design of manufacturing systems as a whole. The tool was developed based on the Manufacturing System Design Decomposition. The Manufacturing System Design Evaluation Tool measures how well a system is designed based on the requirements outlined in the Manufacturing System Design Decomposition. System effectiveness is evaluated based on six physical manufacturing system configurations: the Departmental of Job Shop Layout, Departments Arranged by Product Flow (sometimes called a Flow Shop), Assembly or Transfer Line, Pseudo-Cell (a cell that is called a cell but does not meet all of the requirements of a cell), individual Assembly or Machining Cells (but not yet integrated as a system), and a Linked-Cell Manufacturing System for all aspects of a production value stream. The Linked-Cell Manufacturing System is considered to be the physical configuration that represents the highest level of manufacturing system design requirements achievement. In addition, the siginificance of implementing one physical element relative to achieving the requirements of the overall manufacturing system design may be evaluated. With this feedback, management is able to identify elelements of the system design that need improvement and additional resources. The proposed Manufacturing System Design Evaluation Tool may be applied to evaluate most repetitive, discrete-part manufacturing systems.
In the last few years, Industrial Information Integration Engineering (IIIE) has attracted much attention by the information and communications technology (ICT) community. However, despite of the dynamic nature of this research area, a systematic and extensive review of recent research on IIIE is unavailable. Accordingly, this study conducts an intensive literature review on IIIE and presents an overview of IIIE's content, scope and findings, and potential research opportunities by examining existing literatures from 2006 to 2015 in all databases within Web of Science. Altogether, 497 papers related to IIIE are grouped into 37 research categories and reviewed. The results add knowledge to the existing ones by answering what the current level of development on IIIE is and what the potential future research directions of IIIE are.
To realize the process information sharing and three-dimensional annotation, a standardization description model for machining process information was proposed, which including three layers, natural language description layer, object oriented language description layer and symbolic language description layer. By extension the graphical symbol of surface texture, integrated with machining allowance, surface lay and direction, surface roughness, machining method and technical parameters, equipment, fixture, cutting tools, test information, and sequence number, a graphical symbol for three-dimensional machining process information was proposed. Then formulated the annotation specification of the graphical symbol, including annotation plane, position and orientation, associativity, indication of two or more machining step, restricted area and color using. Finally, a three-dimensional machining process planning system was developed, and a part machining process annotation was taken to illustrate the validity of the graphical symbol.
Continuous planning is a relatively new and not yet fully studied field of research, especially from the perspective of agile and lean development organisations. To augment the knowledge in this field, this article presents both a literature review and empirical findings from three case studies that reveal how companies conduct continuous planning. The results indicate that continuous planning is not commonly adopted and applied throughout these organisations and that it currently involves only a certain kind of planning (e.g., release planning). The results of this study bring to light that the main elements of continuous planning (i.e., organisational, strategic and business planning) are tightly related to each other and thus should be considered when companies seek to improve their planning processes and practices. The importance of continuous planning will only increase dramatically in turbulent business environments that include ever shorter planning cycles and the need to improve transparency and knowledge-sharing in organisations.
A trend towards the provision of product-service packaging and the proliferation of service businesses introduces both tangible and intangible elements into system design. In this paper, we consider the utility of hierarchical system models as a way of flexibly combining such elements by focusing on requisite functionality. Four cases illustrate how the same approach may be used to clarify the requirements of business or socio-technical systems during system development, operation or reengineering stages. It is suggested that a suitable loosely coupled model has significant utility as a 'boundary object' - a term first coined in the study of museum artefacts. Discussion of such objects requires the use of imagination, which may support innovative system design and development. It is suggested that a well-crafted model has multiple uses - as a foundation for system development, in combining traditional and agile project management strategies and in providing a framework to facilitate the capture and organisation of project knowledge.