Research for the development of synthesis based support systems


This research project aims to assist engineers. We do this, by giving them what they are looking for: the best solution to their engineering problem, in the shortest possible time.

We do this by offering them a “synthesis based support tool”. Synthesis is the part of the process where solutions are generated. Synthesis support tools help the engineer to translate his requirements into the optimal realization form.

However, the problem is that there are too many engineers with too many different problems. Just imagine the amount of problems which have to be solved within the engineering process of a car.

Instead of focusing on a single problem, we aim to develop knowledge which can be used to support all engineering problems. We do that, by focusing on the engineering process itself. We intend to develop methods and algorithms which are valid for a wide range of problems, and subsequently can be tailored to fit a specific engineering problem.

Several (limited) prototypes have been built to investigate the feasibility of synthesis based support tools. They show that it is possible to generate optimal solutions for engineering problems, in significantly shortened time: easily ten times faster than with the manual approach.

Now, with the basic principles proven successful, this research program takes the next step: explore the engineering process and develop methods to build support systems for engineering problems, indifferent of the exact problem.

The research aims to gain insight in the following subjects:


How to incorporate intuitive engineering skills in the system?

An experienced engineer gives better solutions, in a shorter time, compared to a less experienced one. How can we make the support system take advantage of expert knowledge to find solutions for complicated situations quickly?


How to deal with multi-disciplinary engineering problems?

On many occasions, engineers have to work on a problem which involves other disciplines, for example mechanical and electronic systems (mechatronics). In those situations, communication between two experts of both fields forms a bottleneck. How can a support system work in two different fields of engineering and produce solutions for a single integrated system?

The above mentioned research topics are fundamentally important in order to develop synthesis support systems for complex engineering problems.


The developments in the modern economic and industrial world result in a growing pressure on companies to increase their efficiency: new products have to be launched in shorter times. Meanwhile, the uncertainties within the increasingly complex development and engineering project remain the same: when is the product ready? Is it good enough? Will its market still exist, or is a competitor faster? These questions are greatly influenced by the uncertainties and risks in the engineering process.

Having the knowledge from this research program available, synthesis based support systems can be build to increase the efficiency and decrease the risk for engineering companies, giving them a clear advantage over their competitors.

This method has the potential of resulting in a new generation of support systems which generates accurate solutions in record times.

The advantages of these tools are twofold:


The valid solutions which are presented are numerous. This means the engineer sees many alternative solutions for his problem. By allowing the solutions to be ranked to several aspects, e.g. weight, cost, performance, etc. the engineer can choose the best solution in significantly decreased time.


The fact that the tool is generating solutions, rather than the engineer himself, allows less experienced engineers to deliver the same quality. The expert knowledge is freely accessible within a company. This means that the value of the average engineer is increased drastically, since they can all deliver optimal solutions for a wide range of specialized subjects.

Previous developments

The moment of this research signifies the start of the second phase in the synthesis research program. In the past few years, six prototypes have been developed which demonstrate the working principle of synthesis within several different knowledge domains. For a specialist field of engineering, expert knowledge has been extracted and documented, leading to new insights [8].

Prototypes show that indeed the chosen methods result in a significant decrease in engineering time, while giving the optimal solution for a problem.

Every demonstration of the prototypes to representatives of the industry led to enthusiastic reaction on the proposed research program, without any exception.



Chakrabarti, A., 2002, “Engineering design synthesis”, Springer-Verlag London


Woldendorp R., “The Compression Spring Designer”, afstudeerscriptie CTW-OPM-737, Universiteit Twente


Draijer H., Kokkeler F.G.M., 2002, “Heron’s synthesis engine applied to linkage design; the philosophy of WATT software” Proceedings of DETC’02, ASME 2002 Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computer and Information in Engineering Conference, Montreal.


Wolters A., 2003, ”Feasibility study of a truss synthesis tool”, afstudeerscriptie CTW-OPM-714 Universiteit Twente,


Wits W.W., 2004, “Development of a design tool for drive optimization of mechatronic systems, the spindle drive”, afstudeerscriptie CTW-WA-921 Universiteit Twente


Bouwhuis M.J., 2004, ”Development of a design tool for design and optimization of cam mechanisms”, afstudeerscriptie CTW-OPM-716 Universiteit Twente, (2003)


Tragter H., 2002, “The Composite Designer”, afstudeerscriptie CTW.02/TMK-5284, Universiteit Twente


Schotborgh W.O., Kokkeler F.G.M., Tragter H. en van Houten F.J.A.M., 2004 Article in Press,“Design graphs for flexure elements and a comparison between three types”, Journal of Precision Engineering, Elsevier