Maintaining and Extending aPriori Cost Models

Rick Burke April 10, 2013

Many customers have asked how we develop and maintain the aPriori cost models. They are at the heart of the aPriori cost management system.  There are over 200 cost models that make up the aPriori solution set, and each cost model is regularly enhanced to account for changing manufacturing practices and  extended to broaden the types of manufacturing processes that aPriori supports. We are committed to continuously improving the accuracy and costing capabilities of the product through the enhancement of the existing cost models and the development of new, in-depth cost models.

The process by which aPriori gathers the information which goes into each cost model has its roots in the ground breaking knowledge engineering research performed by Michael Philpott, Ph. D., and Eric Hiller at the University of Illinois, Urbana and continues today. Mike is aPriori’s chief scientist and is one of the world’s foremost authorities in the areas of Design-to-Cost, Design-for-Manufacture, and Design-for-Assembly with over 30 years of design and manufacture experience and over 50 related publications.

Knowledge Acquisition

The aPriori cost modeling platform is a knowledge based system, and as you might expect, one of the most important components is the manufacturing domain specific knowledge it uses to construct its cost estimates. The knowledge acquisition used by aPriori can be summed up as the process of extracting, structuring and organizing information gathered from fundamental literature research and from interviews with experts, in our case, manufacturing process experts. The result is a heuristic based system which replicates in software the reasoning, pattern-recognition, and decision making abilities of human manufacturing experts.

Finding the Right Experts

The knowledge acquisition process starts with two tasks: 1) finding the right domain experts and 2) selecting the knowledge acquisition technique that will be most productive. Knowledge acquisition techniques are a fascinating mix of science, art, psychology and human nature, but for now, let’s focus on job #1, finding the right experts.

For the first research into sheet metal manufacturing, Philpott and Hiller approached the experts at one of America’s largest manufacturers of agricultural equipment. These best-in-class manufacturing experts were interviewed extensively to acquire, structure, and ultimately codify their highly specific knowledge about metal fabrication, welding, stamping, assembly and finishing. Domain experts, by definition, are busy people; the go-to people within an organization who have all the answers. Interviews with these experts must be focused, efficient and effective.

That same process continues today for every aPriori release, with each new release incorporating additional expertise and manufacturing specific knowledge. Behind many of the cost models that aPriori supports, there are experts whose knowledge has been leveraged to extend and enhance the capabilities and accuracy of that cost model.

This expertise comes from individuals in companies who perform these manufacturing processes as part of their everyday business activities.  Many of these experts are from existing aPriori customers whose suggestions and input are incorporated into subsequent product releases. Others are experts from best-in-class manufacturing suppliers who work with aPriori on a partnership basis to give us up-to-date information on the latest machine tools, manufacturing processes and actual shop costs.

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