Skip to main content

Feature Stories

Driving innovation to compete in the global economy
Members of the eDesign team

Krishnamurty asserts the more integrative the design approach (from researcher-to-researcher and researcher-to-industry), the more quickly innovations can be achieved and made useful.

Our increasingly high-tech global economy demands the collaborative efforts of many in order to design and use complex products. To meet this need, the Center for e-Design at UMass Amherst is helping to drive the process, providing innovators with software tools that enable them to think more broadly about innovation design and systems.

UMass Amherst is one of eight institutions nationwide participating as center “sites”—research funded cooperatively by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and industry partners. The center specializes in information technology-enabled design and software tools that expedite product dissemination. Led by professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering and center co-director Sundar Krishnamurty, campus researchers are developing new design paradigms and processes, with particular emphasis on engineering knowledge modeling.

Krishnamurty has extensive experience in design optimization, innovation, and semantic web ontologies connected to engineering, assistive technology and mechanism design. His recent inventions include a portable seatbelt and a deep pressure vest. Krishnamurty works to create an “integrative and distributed environment” for students and faculty, and asserts the more integrative the design approach (from researcher-to-researcher and researcher-to-industry), the more quickly innovations can be achieved and made useful.

Sundar Krishnamurty (left) and student Nate Damon '13 with the portable CAD workbench design
Krishnamurty’s team was recently awarded an Innovation Corps (I-Corps) grant to further develop and commercialize “Innovation Accelerator”—a project spearheaded by postdoctoral fellow Anthony McCaffrey that explores the ways humans and machines can complement each other during the innovation process. As part of that work, Krishnamurty, McCaffrey and the team are developing new Internet and software platforms to distribute and disseminate knowledge. One tool, called the “analogy finder,” allows innovators to search a patent database for analogous solutions to problems they seek to solve. Krishnamurty explains that whereas the innovative process is often isolated between fields, the analogy finder software generates information on related ideas. For example, imagine a ski company researching ways to reduce vibration in their product line. By typing, “reduce vibrations,” into the analogy finder software, the search yields a host of patent-specific information from the database, such as vibration reduction methods in drum sets and violins. By enabling innovators from any field to share patent information through this network, analogy finder makes it possible to collaborate and learn from others on a broad scale.

Another software tool the center team is optimizing is the “MemoExtractor.” MemoExtractor is designed to help users digitally scan large volumes of legacy documents and create a customized database for fast and efficient information retrieval. Legacy data refers to information stored in an obsolete, archaic format that is not easily accessible. By providing an intelligent, user-friendly format for managing this information, the team is helping companies to better store and communicate it. This project (like all center projects) involves graduate and undergraduate researchers, as well as industry partners. Graduate student Jeffrey McPherson and undergraduate student Edward Roy are working closely with industry to test and deploy the MemoExtractor, and are gaining valuable work experience in the process.

Inside the Innovation Machine Shop
“You get to see how the real world works…how industry comes to you with a problem and how you approach it and deal with it from there. That experience, I feel, is very invaluable,” says Roy.

In western Massachusetts, Krishnamurty and colleagues are working with industry to develop and distribute new products more quickly and efficiently.  Industry partners include companies such as Overlook Industry, Vistagy, Raytheon, and PTC (a Massachusetts based CAD company). In partnership with PTC, student researchers get hands-on experience using state-of-the-art CAD equipment—skills that prove useful in the job market. Krishnamurty says that the Center is generating a “new breed of engineers” that are extremely capable of tackling global problems.

“The main goal and the most satisfying part of the work is to see young students become mature, responsible, intelligent engineers who are ready and willing to solve the world’s problems,” Krishnamurty says.

Amanda Drane '12