The exponential growth of the Internet and the increasing communication and computational power have created many opportunities for advancing engineering, manufacturing and business activities. Active Catalog brings a conceptually new idea to design and electronic commerce by providing new forms of catalog information about engineering parts and physical objects. Active Catalog is designed for finding and using information in building design applications in the context of heterogeneous, Internet-based distributed computing environments. The information provided by Active Catalog is active, dynamic, composable, multi-dimensional, share-able, semantically accessible, interoperable and executable in distributed environments.

Active Catalog allows engineers and designers to search for information about catalog parts syntactically and semantically, use that information to construct simulation programs rapidly, and test out their designs on the Internet before committing to actual fabrication of physical systems. It supports a new “Try Before You Buy” paradigm in the Internet-based design and electronic commerce.

This paper presents a number of research issues and our approach in building an Internet-based catalog information resource. The paper describes an initial prototype toward realizing the “Try Before You Buy” paradigm, in the context of the electromechanical design of pump and motor systems. The prototype contains a pump ontology and a search engine for finding semantically equivalent parts. The paper also describes a distributed simulation, which runs on various machines, and exchanges dynamic information using commercial data exchange mechanisms.

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