Physual Designing - A Supportive Framework for Dispersed Engineering Design
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Corporations involved in engineering design face multiple challenges; collaboration in complex, geographically dispersed value chains, increasing pressure to reduce lead times to improve their competitive positions, and challenges related to operating in truly global markets. Given these multiple challenges, current tools and methods do not provide support for collaborative effectiveness and efficiency. In particular, they do not fulfill the requirements of the early stages of the overall engineering design process. Common technologies such as video conferencing systems and desktop conferencing systems are not able to provide the necessary functionality for conveying graphic communication through sketching in these early stages. In particular, little has been done to successfully explore and capture the unique advantages of allowing collocated work in combination teams consisting of a collocated core team and distributed node members. The main contribution of this research is a collaborative framework for dispersed engineering design in such combination teams. This framework is labeled physual designing and aims to enhance collaborative participation and performance for dispersed members, while maintaining the collaborative benefits of offering a collocated arena for core teams. Collaborative performance is addressed through emphasizing collaborative effectiveness and efficiency. The term physual refers to physical, virtual and visual respectively, and physual designing supports collaborative effectiveness and efficiency through three main elements. First, by providing a suitable physical workspace for capturing the unique advantages of collocated work. Second, by providing adequate virtual properties in order for external contributors to connect to the physical workspace, and by improving work portability between different working situations. Third, by presenting the virtual characteristics in the physical workspace by providing large, interactive displays that support a visual working methodology. These benefits are achieved through integrated use of a virtual workspace combined with a selection of computer peripherals. Examples include large projected displays, an interactive whiteboard, wireless keyboard and mouse, and an SMS system for wireless coordination of team activities. Combined, these technologies make it easier to maintain creative flow across different working situations. The framework has been tested through a series of empirical studies at NTNU and in the Norwegian oil industry, and through a prototype research arena, the IMM design studio. This design studio acts as a manifestation of physual designing as an approach to overcome collaboration challenges for dispersed teams. The role of information and communication technology as a collaboration enabler, transformer and inhibitor respectively, has been analyzed with emphasis on role dynamics in different working situations.