Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 October 2005
Conceptual design produces a number of functions the designed product is to fulfill, several solution principles (means) for each function, and multiple overall principle solutions (concepts). Besides concept synthesis, it is important to determine the (few) early solution properties that are of interest at the concept stage. Further activities are assessing the consequences of the chosen means and their instantiation, the effects of changes, and how decisions affect other elements. Using a quantitative functional representation can facilitate these tasks, but a balance is needed between product-dependent tools predicting many detailed properties, and product-independent, generally applicable tools with limited prediction capabilities. A balance between a closed, general set of predefined building blocks and extensibility by modeling application-specific, individual elements is also necessary. In this paper, a generally applicable conceptual design model is presented, which has been established by theoretical reasoning applied to a number of products. These products were the subjects of previous company-ordered student projects. The resulting information model spans continuously from requirements to concepts and permits modeling desired functionality (functions), achieved functionality (means and their value choices), and explicit constraints (internal and external relations between parameters of requirements, functions and means). To indicate the suitability in principle, the model has been implemented in an interactive, incremental prototype for computer support that permits modeling, storage, and reuse in a database. It can be concluded that the model permits explicit modeling of complex relations, automatic change propagation, and handling of many concept alternatives. Integrated, bidirectional, and continuous connections from requirements to concepts facilitate conceptual design, reuse, documentation of the results, and allow changes to be made and their effects assessed easily. Incremental constraint networks are approved, for example, in configuration design or geometry modelers, and the significance of this article is to enable their use also for quantitative analysis of incomplete, evolving concepts in original design tasks allowing different principle solutions, and for various products of mechanical design.