Research in Engineering Design

, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 17–52 | Cite as

Supporting product architecture design using computational design synthesis with network structure constraints

  • David F. WyattEmail author
  • David C. Wynn
  • Jerome P. Jarrett
  • P. John Clarkson
Original Paper


A product’s architecture can affect many aspects of product and process quality, from technical performance to the design effort required, production costs and satisfaction of later lifecycle requirements. This paper explores how computational tools can augment creative methods in product architecture design. Based on an empirical study aiming to understand the context of product architecture design, a new computational method is proposed to support this activity. In the method, product architectures—networks of components linked by connections—can be synthesised using constraints on the structure of the network to define the set of ‘realisable’ architectures for a product. An example illustrates how the method might be used on a real design problem, including the construction of an appropriate set of network structure constraints and the identification of promising architectures from the synthesis results. Preliminary evaluation of the method’s usability, assessed through a laboratory experiment, and its utility, assessed through application to a real historical design problem, supported by initial validation by an engineer from the case study company, suggests that the method has value for engineering design practice.


Product architecture Conceptual design Design support method Computational design synthesis Network structure constraints Cambridge advanced modeller (CAM) 



The authors thank the engineers at the case study company and Claudia Eckert of the Open University for her assistance with carrying out the interviews. They also thank the members of the Cambridge Engineering Design Centre who took part in the usability evaluation described in Sect. 6.1, and the three anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments. Figure 2 is reproduced from Starling and Shea (2005), originally published by ASME, and the images of bicycle lights in Fig. 19b–d are reproduced by kind permission of Pedalite International Ltd (, Reelight ApS ( and Brando WorkShop ( This research was funded by the George and Lilian Schiff Studentship and the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (grant reference EP/E001777/1).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • David F. Wyatt
    • 1
    Email author
  • David C. Wynn
    • 1
  • Jerome P. Jarrett
    • 1
  • P. John Clarkson
    • 1
  1. 1.Cambridge Engineering Design Centre, Department of EngineeringUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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