Social media have recently been introduced into the arena of collaborative design as a new means for seamlessly gathering, processing, and sharing product design-related information. As engineering design processes are becoming increasingly distributed and collaborative, it is crucial to understand the communication and collaboration mechanism of engineers participating in such dispersed engineering processes. In particular, mapping initially disconnected design individuals and teams into an explicit social network is challenging. The objective of this paper is to propose a generic framework for investigating communication and collaboration mechanisms in social media-supported engineering design environments. Specifically, we propose an approach for measuring tie strengths in the context of distributed and collaborative design. We transform an implicit design network into an explicit and formal social network based on specific indices of tie strengths. We visualize the process of transforming customer needs to functional requirements, to design parameters, and to process variables using social network analysis (SNA). Specifically, by utilizing a specific index for tie strengths, we can quantitatively measure tie strengths in a design network. Based on the tie strengths, we can map an implicit design network into an explicit social network. Further, using the typical measures (e.g., centrality and cluster coefficient) in SNA, we can analyze the social network at both actor and systems levels and detect design communities with common design interests. We demonstrate the applicability of the framework by means of two examples. The contribution in this paper is a systematic and formal approach that helps gain new insights into communication and collaboration mechanisms in distributed and collaborative design.

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