This paper presents the foundation for a collaborative Web-based environment for improving communication by formally defining a platform for documentation and sharing of engineering design knowledge throughout the entire design process. In this work an ontological structure is utilized to concisely define a set of individual engineering concepts. This set of modular ontologies link together to create a flexible, yet consistent, product development knowledge-base. The resulting infrastructure uniquely enables the information stored within the knowledge-base to be readily inspectable and computable, thus allowing for design tools that reason on the information to assist designers and automate design processes. A case study of the structural optimization of a transfer plate for an aerospace circuit breaker is presented to demonstrate implementation and usefulness of the knowledge framework. The results indicate that the ontological knowledge-base can be used to prompt engineers to document important product development information, increase understanding of the design process, provide a means to intuitively retrieve information, and seamlessly access distributed information.

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