Everybody creates models. These models are used to understand how products will hold up to the stresses, use, and abuse of real-world deployment; analyze the impact of design decisions on cost; simulate interactions; or evaluate numerous other metrics. Unfortunately, because of the variety of software tools available and the cost of acquiring them, models may not be compatible with the software used by customers and suppliers. Sharing models creates the fear of exposing intellectual property, especially if those sharing the models can understand the source code.

Using an MS-Excel spreadsheet as a "control panel," one can build lean models that allow partners to use a firm's models while, at the same time, preventing them from seeing proprietary calculations. Proper functioning of the "control panel" requires that the user load a Plug-In to Excel. With the Plug-In loaded, the user downloads the control-panel spreadsheet to their desktop and modifies the model's inputs in MS-Excel. The changes prod the Plug-in to transfer the input values to a remote engineering server that launches the model with the user's input values. When the simulation is complete, the results are extracted from the model and returned to the spreadsheet. Since the user never downloads the actual model, they cannot extract intellectual property.

Consider, for example, the manufacturer of car door handles who might want to evaluate numerous materials for suitability. By creating a lean model (Figure 1) and making it available to a range of material suppliers, the manufacturer can determine the effectiveness of a range of materials without sharing the specifics of their door handle model. This model, which can be used by registering and installing the MS-Excel Plug-In, uses as Inputs the force in Newtons on the door handle and Young's Modulus (a key material property that indicates how a material responds to stress-strain). As Outputs, the model produces the maximum displacement of the material in millimeters and a visualization of the displacement field. The displacement field can be viewed by right-clicking on the appropriate cell and selecting "Visualize." Because the model is locked and protected, the user can see results but none of the calculations.

For more information on creating or distributing lean models, contact Beam Technologies, 404 Wyman St, Suite 355, Waltham, MA 02451; (781) 890-5091

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the January, 2001 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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