Ball Aeronautics donates advanced software to Center for e-Design

The Center for e-Design and Realization of Engineered Products and Systems in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department has received a gift of software valued at more than $76,800 from the Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation. The gift of the KnowledgeKinetics (K2) Software License provides the center with a collaborative engineering software tool that can be used to track ongoing changes on a cooperative design throughout its production life cycle. The center is one of the two at the College of Engineering funded by the National Science Foundation. It conducts research into technology that allows distant multiple users to collaborate, and software tools to inter-operate seamlessly, on new product designs in cyberspace.

“This software can help several different groups in geographically separate locations cooperate on a design they are working on as a team,” says Ian Grosse, co-director of the Center for e-Design. With K2, collaborating team members will be able to gain access to and share computer-based engineering tools, models and simulations, knowledge bases and other dispersed special facilities.

The software was originally developed for the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Information Directorate''s Information Systems Division at Wright-Patterson AFB under its Dual Use Science and Technology, or DUST, program. It was commercialized by Ball Systems Engineering Operations. One example of how K2 was used by the Air Force was as the interaction backbone for a test bed known as the Joint Synthetic Battlespace – an environment where war fighters could train and exercise on real-world equipment while embedded in realistic wartime cyberspace.

“K2 leverages information and simulation technology to enhance decision support by linking information and software tools together to get critical information to decision-makers – when and where they need it,” says William K. McQuay, program manager for the AFRL Information Directorate. McQuay is now head of the center''s Industrial Advisory Board. Gary A. Whitted, a program manager at Ball, worked closely with Grosse to license the software to the center for educational purposes.

In industry''s rush to market new products before competitors do, the cumbersome product-design stage sometimes acts like a treadmill to keep the development process running in place. Contemporary development often involves long-term partnerships among industry, academic institutions and government, while its design stage is a tricky collaboration across time zones, cultures and languages. That''s where the Center for e-Design comes in. The center is a design facilitator, using the Internet and special software platforms (such as K2 ) that allow multiple partners to manipulate a common design in cyberspace and in unison. Such virtual collaboration is critical to reduce development time and get the new product online to capture its fair market share.

“The goal of the center is collaboration across the Web,” says Grosse. “We''re looking at various technologies to do that, including KnowledgeKinetics. What we hope to do is not only use the tool, but also look for ways it can be augmented to make it more effective. This timely gift from Ball is basically a takeoff point.”

The new center is supported by a combination of NSF funding and membership fees from industry members, with an estimated total funding level of $3 million. With this donation, Ball Aerospace begins the membership process that will gain the company access to all research being done at the center, including royalty-free license rights to intellectual property. There are now about 15 projects ongoing at the center, so members have access to the knowledge generated by all those projects. The current academic partners in the Center for e-Design are UMass Amherst, the University of Central Florida and the University of Pittsburgh. Virginia Tech and Carnegie Mellon University are slated to join next year.

Photo: Gary A. Whitted, Senior Systems Engineer - Systems Engineering Operations, Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.; Ian Grosse, co-director of the Center for e-Design; and Michael Malone, dean of Engineering.