Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Legacy Department

Mechanical Engineering


Summers, Joshua D

Committee Member

Fadel , Georges M


In engineering design research, function structures are used to represent the intended functionality of technical artifacts. Function structures are graph-based representations where the nodes are functions, or actions, and the edges are flows, or objects of those actions. For the consistent description of artifact functionality, multiple controlled vocabularies have been developed in previous research. The Functional Basis is one such vocabulary that provides for a set of verbs and a set of nouns, organized in the three-level hierarchy. This vocabulary is extensively studied in design research. Two major application of this vocabulary are the Design Repository, which is a web-base archive of design information of consumer electro-mechanical products obtained through reverse engineering, and the functional decomposition grammar rules that synthesizes sub-functions or elementary actions of a product from the overall function or goal of the product. However, despite the Functional Basis' popularity, the usefulness of its hierarchical structure has not been specifically tested. Additionally, although this vocabulary provides the verbs and nouns, no explicit guideline for using those terms in function structures has been proposed. Consequently, multiple representational inconsistencies can be found in the function structures within the Design Repository. The two research goals in this thesis are: (1) to investigate if the hierarchy in the Functional Basis is useful for constructing function structures and (2) to explore means to increase the consistency and expressive power of the Functional Basis vocabulary.
To address the first goal, an information metric for function structures and function vocabularies is developed based on the principles of Information Theory. This metric is applied to three function structures from the Design Repository to demonstrate that the secondary level of the Functional Basis is the most informative of the three. This finding is validated by an external empirical study, which shows that the secondary level is used most frequently in the Design Repository, finally indicating that the hierarchy is not useful for constructing function structures.
To address the second research goal, a new representation of functions, including rules the topological connections in a function structure, is presented. It is demonstrated through experiments that the new representation is more expressive than the text-based descriptions of functions used in the Functional Basis, as it formally describes which flows can be connected to which functions. It is also shown that the new representation reduces the uncertainty involved in the individual function structures.