A Software Framework For Intelligent Computer-Automated Product Design
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For many years, NTNU in Ålesund (formerly Aalesund University College) has maintained a close relationship with the maritime industrial cluster, centred in the surrounding geographical region, thus acting as a hub for both education, research, and innovation. Of many common relevant research topics, virtual prototyping is currently one of the most important. In this paper, we describe our first complete version of a generic and modular software framework for intelligent computer-automated product design. We present our framework in the context of design of offshore cranes, with easy extensions to other products, be it maritime or not. Funded by the Research Council of Norway and its Programme for Regional R&D and Innovation (VRI), the work we present has been part of two separate but related research projects (grant nos. 241238 and 249171) in close cooperation with two local maritime industrial partners. We have implemented several software modules that together constitute the framework, of which the most important are a server-side crane prototyping tool (CPT), a client-side web graphical user interface (GUI), and a client-side artificial intelligence for product optimisation (AIPO) module that uses a genetic algorithm (GA) library for optimising design parameters to achieve a crane design with desired performance. Communication between clients and server is achieved by means of the HTTP and WebSocket protocols and JSON as the data format. To demonstrate the feasibility of the fully functioning complete system, we present a case study where our computer-automated design was able to improve the existing design of a real and delivered 50-tonnes, 2.9 million EUR knuckleboom crane with respect to some chosen desired design criteria. Our framework being generic and modular, both clientside and server-side modules can easily be extended or replaced. We demonstrate the feasibility of this concept in an accompanying paper submitted concurrently, in which we create a simple product optimisation client in Matlab that uses readily available toolboxes to connect to the CPT and optimise various crane designs by means of a GA. In addition, our research team is currently developing a winch prototyping tool to which our existing AIPO module can connect and optimise winch designs with only small configuration changes. This work will be published in the near future.