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Microsoft Visio

What is Visio?

How can I capture my experts' knowledge by drawing pictures?

What kind of computer do I need to run the application?

Product Configuration

What types of applications is the Apprentice product configuration technology best suited for?

Can the Product Apprentice run without Microsoft Visio?

Can I use shapes I've already created?

Process Configuration

How do I capture process knowledge?

Can I use flowcharts of my process that I’ve already created?

What does project management have to do with process modeling?

Decision Configuration

What types of decisions does your software support?

How is an implications tree different from a decision tree?

How is evidence used to support a decision?

What types of logical operators does your software support?

Can your software support fuzzy logic?

What is Three Value Logic?

2D Shape and 3D Content Creation

Can I use shapes I've already created?

Can I use my existing AutoCAD drawings and blocks?

Can I enhance my existing Visio shapes and documents?

Are there tools that make it easy to create smart shapes?

I thought Visio shapes were smart; how does the Apprentice make them smarter?

How do the rules help you generate a 3D Drawing?

Bill of Materials Generation

Can I generate a bill of materials from a Visio drawing automatically?

Can I use components and parts existing in my database or Product Data Management System?

Can I automatically generate accessory parts to my bill of materials?

What happens if the Apprentice can't locate a part number?

Can I publish the results on the web?

Generation of Intelligent Drawings from Existing Data Sources

Can I use the Apprentice to create drawings automatically?

Can I generate a Visio drawing from data I have in spreadsheets, databases or in XML format?

Customized Product Apprentice

Is there a simple way to discover and document my rules about my product?

Can I write rules to configure a shape when it is dropped?

Can I apply rules to validate that the design is correct?

Can I integrate my existing analysis and automation programs?

 

 

What is Visio?

Visio is a Microsoft product, and is considered an extension of Microsoft Office. It is a drawing tool that makes it easy to assemble many typical business drawings by dragging and dropping shapes off of stencils. Different stencils focus on specific drawing applications (e.g. block diagrams, floor plans, org charts), and many of these stencils revolve around different engineering specialties (e.g. electrical, mechanical, process). Visio has what is called 'smart shapes', which can store data and which connect to one another in programmable ways. Every Visio shape is backed by a shapesheet – a spreadsheet that tells the shape how to behave based on contained data.  This makes Visio a very powerful tool when enhanced with the knowledge modeling capabilities provided by the Apprentice.  Many deployed Apprentice applications do not use Visio, but most Apprentice modeling tools use Visio as part of the knowledge capture environment.

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How can I capture my experts' knowledge by drawing pictures?

Apprentice Systems uses a proprietary model that allows you to reduce relatively complex products or systems into a set of drawings built with Apprentice-enabled Visio shapes. This form of knowledge modeling is taught in the Apprentice Knowledge Modeling Workshop. Knowledge modeling is the backbone of all Apprentice applications, and is what allows us to generate complex applications quickly.

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What kind of computer do I need to run the application?

Apprentice applications run on any Windows-based computer, though the performance of the application can vary based on the complexity of the rules, the size of the database and the speed of the processor.

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 What types of applications is the Apprentice product configuration technology best suited for?

If your company, application or product meets one of these profiles, Apprentice is for you:

  • Your company builds "assembled to order" or "engineered to order" products.
  • Your product has many different applications and expertise is required to determine which features are necessary to make the application successful.
  • Customer specifications are given to you as a drawing or your customers require a drawing as part of the sale.
  • Your product is assembled from a large number of standard and/or purchased parts.
  • Your company's expertise is in manufacturing families of parts and products.
  • Your product requires some parts to be "cut to length" or "bent" to fulfill an order.
  • You need a way of identifying parts that have similar characteristics as a means of rationalizing components and reengineering existing products.
  • Your product has an evolving set of rules that must be satisfied to assure that it performs to specification or that it can be correctly manufactured and assembled.
  • Your quotation process requires checking each component's geometry or connectivity.
  • Customers often provide you with drawings of initial concepts and you must base your quote on their designs.
  • You are constantly introducing new products that are functionally equivalent to existing products yet perform better and cost you less to manufacture.
  • Your requisition engineering and sales people need to be notified of engineering changes.
  • Your company's product design expertise is locked in the minds of your senior engineers.
  • The catalog you use to sell your product publishes selection rules for customers.

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Can the Product Apprentice run without Microsoft Visio?

If your application does not require schematics, Visio is not required. Input can be done via forms or the web, and the output can be text-based as well (bills of materials, web pages).

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Can I use shapes I've already created?

Yes, you can use your custom shapes as well as all the shapes in the Visio library. You can enhance each shape's behavior and associate your own configuration knowledge with each shape.

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How do I capture process knowledge?

Process models are built by dragging and dropping task shapes to build a high level task flow.  Then high level tasks are decomposed into more detailed tasks – it is totally up to you how far you carry this decomposition process.  You should stop at the level of detail you feel is appropriate for managing and documenting the process.

At this lowest level of detail, task shapes are then expanded to include other information necessary for modeling – what resources are required?  How much work needs to be done?  How long does it usually take to complete the task (elapsed time)?  This is the minimal amount of information required to do simulations.  This information is added by dropping the appropriate shapes inside the task shape.

Other optional information can be provided as well, such as the inputs, outputs, methods and controls for each task (these are used in the IDEF process methodology).  This information, while not necessary for simulations, is useful for process analysis.

At any stage throughout the knowledge capture process, the current state of the model can be tested by running Quick Test within the Apprentice Process Modeler.  The model can be deployed into a Project Apprentice by selecting the Deploy option in the menu.

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Can I use flowcharts of my process that I’ve already created?

There are several types of flowcharts that can be made of a process – procedural flowcharts, ‘swim lanes’ or cross functional flowcharts, IDEF (decomposition) flowcharts are examples.  The clarity that provided by creating these charts is always valuable.

The type of chart that best fits the Apprentice process model is the IDEF chart because it is a decomposition model.  Converting it to an Apprentice model is very straightforward.

But in any case, the process must be drawn from scratch inside the Apprentice Process Modeler, using Apprentice-enabled shapes, so that it can be read by the ApprenticeNET engine and create a Project Apprentice.  These drawings and quick and easy to build, however, using the drawing tools built into the Process Modeler.

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What does project management have to do with process modeling?

Interestingly enough, we find that process engineers and project managers tend to be entirely different groups within an organization.  This is interesting to us because we see most projects as specific instances of underlying processes.

While it is true that some projects are truly one-off events, most projects tend to be repetitive and variations on a theme.  Examples of this sort of process are new product introductions, new retail store openings, installation projects, construction projects, financial planning, case management… the list is indeed endless.  Each project is unique based on the specific circumstances and requirements, but each project is similar based on the underlying process.  Capturing knowledge about the process and the context variables that cause the process to modify in predictable ways allows us to generate all the variations of the process – potential projects – automatically.

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What types of decisions does your software support?

The Apprentice Decision Modeler is designed to support yes/no, true/false decisions that are reached based on a complex evaluation process.  Examples of this sort of decision are:

  • Is the individual/company in compliance?
  • Is the defendant guilty?
  • Is this a good acquisition?
  • Is this a good retail site?
  • Is this idea patentable?
  • Is this a good addition to our product line?
  • Is this a high potential account?
  • Is this person creditworthy?

This simple yes/no answer is based on a complex logic structure that can be decomposed, or developed, over time.  The description of this logic structure is captured in an Implications Tree composed of propositions and logical connectors.  Propositions are evaluated as true, false or undecided (Three Value Logic), and all begin as undecided.  As evidence is added to the tree, the current state of the decision (argument) is communicated through traffic light color coding – green for true, red for false and white for undecided.  A decision is reached when the top proposition in the tree is either green or red (true or false).

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How is an Implications Tree different from a decision tree?

A decision tree is navigated from the top down, with the top node being an entry point to a process and all the paths down representing different paths through the process.  It is used to guide a user through a complex but ultimately procedural process.

An Implications Tree is filled in at the ‘leaves’ by applying evidence to make a low level proposition true or false.  The Apprentice automatically reasons up the tree to see what conclusions it can draw based on all the current evidence.  The process is nonprocedural – evidence can be added anywhere and in any order.  Usually the ultimate conclusion can be logically determined with only a portion of the tree filled in.  This allows the user to enter what they know, when they know it and does not force them through a predetermined process that might be inappropriate for the current situation.

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How is evidence used to support a decision?

Evidence is any information that can be used to support or disprove a proposition.  This information can take the form of documents, pictures, or numbers – really, any type of ‘digital asset’.  The user decides if this evidence is sufficient to turn the proposition true or false.  While this linkage is sometimes subjective, it is always well documented.

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What types of logical operators does your software support?

The Apprentice Process Modeler supports the traditional logical operators ‘and’ and ‘or’, but also the unique and powerful concept ‘unless’.  These operators, in conjunction with Three Value Logic, are powerful enough to capture the most complex of decision processes.

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Can your software support fuzzy logic?

The current version of the software evaluates propositions as true, false and undecided based on deterministic rules.  A version currently under development is being designed to use probabilities as well.

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What is Three Value Logic?

Traditional truth tables are based on Two Value logic – every proposition, if not proven to be true, is assumed to be false.  In Three Value Logic, all propositions begin as undecided and must be proven to be either true or false.  This is factored into the processing of every Boolean operation.

Why is this important?  Only Three Value Logic can demonstrate if an argument or an analysis is complete.  An Implications Tree whose top box is white is a tree representing an incomplete analysis and an inconclusive decision.  In the world of information workers, reaching a well-reasoned “no-go” decision is as important as reaching a well-reasoned “go” decision.

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Can I use my existing AutoCAD drawings and blocks?

Yes. Visio lets you import graphics from AutoCAD and other programs and turn them into smart shapes. The Apprentice can associate your product knowledge with any Visio shape.

Apprentice Systems is currently developing a version of the Apprentice Product Modeler and Product Apprentice that works directly with CAD models such as SolidWorks and AutoCAD.

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Can I enhance my existing Visio shapes and documents?

Yes, you can. One of the guiding principles of Apprentice Systems is that you should be able to easily enhance your existing applications by embedding your people's knowledge.

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Are there tools that make it easy to create smart shapes?

Yes, we have built a library of smart shape patterns, and have tools that let you insert these behaviors into your own shapes. In many cases, building Visio content using the Apprentice tools is as easy as cut and paste.

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I thought Visio shapes were smart; how does the Apprentice make them smarter?

Visio shapes are smart about how they behave graphically and display their geometry. The Apprentice adds your configuration and part selection rules to each Visio shape as well as to the entire drawing.

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How do the rules help you generate a 3D Drawing?

Rules make is possible to specify how a 2D shape should be represented and positioned in a 3D environment. Different rule templates make is easy to collect and apply 3D knowledge.

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Can I generate a bill of materials from a Visio drawing automatically?

Yes, any drawing you create using your Apprentice-enhanced content will automatically produce a bill of materials, including automatic part number selection based on the specifications provided.

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Can I use components and parts currently in my database or Product Data Management system?

Absolutely, the Apprentice can apply your rules and select parts from your component database and PDM systems automatically. It can also merge it with pricing data to generate a quote.

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Can I automatically generate accessory parts to my bill of materials?

Yes. The existence of some parts implies or requires the existence of others. This type of rule can easily be specified.

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What happens if the Apprentice can't locate a part number?

The Apprentice identifies the constraints that are preventing it from locating the optimal part number. The user is given the opportunity to relax the selection criteria, add a new part to the database, or request a detailed specification for a new part design.

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Can I publish the results on the web?

Visio provides tools to publish and share drawings on the web. The Apprentice has tools to enhance the presentation with tables and explanations.

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Can I use the Apprentice to create drawings automatically?

Yes, many Apprentice applications are based on creating an instance of a product model and asking the Apprentice to render the drawing.

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Can I generate a Visio drawing from data I have in spreadsheets, databases or in XML format?

Yes, a small amount of custom automation is required to extract and interpret your custom data source, but the process of asking the Apprentice to drop and arrange the shapes based on rules is inherent in our products.

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Is there a simple way to discover and document my rules about my product?

Apprentice Systems has developed techniques to mine knowledge from existing successful designs. This methodology helps experts identify the rules governing their engineering decisions, and structure their problem-solving process.

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Can I write rules to configure a shape when it is dropped?

Yes, dropping a shape is the first step in creating a drawing. It is the ideal moment to capture the details of the customer's specifications. Many applications configure their smart shapes to display information gathered on drop.

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Can I apply rules to validate that the design is correct?

Yes. There is a special category of rules that is designed to validate that a component is applied correctly. Their validation rules can be tested while the drawing is constructed, or afterwards before it is released.

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Can I integrate my existing analysis and automation programs?

Yes, The Apprentice has an open architecture and automation model. It is easy to pass data between your applications and the Apprentice object model. The Apprentice also allows you to extend its basic functionality.

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