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An Investigation of Engineers’ Use of a Virtual Collaborative Environment for Automated Assembly System Design

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Use of Technology for Education

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

24.175.1 - 24.175.13



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Paper Authors


Sheng-Jen Hsieh Texas A&M University

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Dr. Sheng-Jen (“Tony”) Hsieh is Professor in the Dwight Look College of Engineering at Texas A&M University. He holds a joint appointment with the Department of Engineering Technology and the Department of Mechanical Engineering. His research interests include engineering education, cognitive task analysis, automation, robotics and control, intelligent manufacturing system design, and micro/nano manufacturing. He is also the Director of the Rockwell Automation laboratory at Texas A&M University, a state-of-the-art facility for education and research in the areas of automation, control, and automated system integration.

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Understanding and Evaluation of Virtual Collaborative Design Environment for Automated Assembly SystemCollaborative Integrating the components of an automated manufacturing system is a highlycollaborative endeavor, requiring constant communication between a customer (typically amanufacturer), a team of system integration engineers, and suppliers. Web-based instructionalmaterials and problem-solving environments are being built to help engineering students andnew engineers to acquire the subject knowledge and skills needed to contribute to theseactivities. However, the focus of these tools thus far has been on educating individual learners.Needed are instructional tools that can allow engineering students to collaborate with otherstudents and industry engineers to solve realistic problems in a realistic way, and thereby betterprepare them for industry jobs. Tools such as web conferencing and shared applications canpotentially be used as collaborative learning environments that allow teams to work and learntogether in solving system integration problems.To appropriately leverage these technologies, needed is a better understanding of how users canoperate within virtual environments. For this study, a web conferencing tool was used to providea virtual environment for role-play between a customer who needs a system to automate theassembly of a computer mouse and a design engineer. Seven engineers with varying levels ofexperience (four senior engineers, one mid-level, two entry-level) each developed a concept foran assembly line design based on information from the customer, such as pictures of thecomponent parts, cost, and timeline. The engineers asked questions about requirements asneeded. Communication avenues include voice-over IP (VoIP), whiteboard, and pre-loadedphotos of the parts of the mouse to be assembled. Data gathered included: length of discussion;types of questions asked; use of affordances in environment such as slides, voice over IP,whiteboard, desktop sharing, document sharing; and quality of design.Web conferencing was found to be a useful tool for design collaboration. But it should probablynot be the only communication avenue. Walk-around tours of the client’s environment provide amore complete picture of the client’s needs. Also, sometimes it is helpful to be about to touch,feel, and lift components. These capabilities are particularly needed when dealing with newclients, new projects, and/or new technologies. In addition, limitations in bandwidth can alsocreate barriers to comfortable and rapid exchange of ideas and information via web conferencing.More work is needed to make this form of collaboration more natural, comfortable and efficient.Next generation environments should provide better connectivity and excellent tele-presencecapabilities, and low barriers to entry (should be as easy to use as a telephone).

Hsieh, S. (2014, June), An Investigation of Engineers’ Use of a Virtual Collaborative Environment for Automated Assembly System Design Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20066

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