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October 5, 2004

Engineering design and analysis software subject of IT research award, GM collaboration

By Matthew Early Wright

Software has changed our lives, from how we communicate and receive information about the world to how we work and play. Now, advances in software technology are transforming the way engineers develop and test automotive designs. Assistant Professor Diane Bailey and Professor Stephen Barley of the Management Science and Engineering Department, in collaboration with researchers from General Motors (GM), have just received a $1.3 million Information Technology Research award from the National Science Foundation to investigate how these software tools are influencing the way automotive engineers work.

“We are examining how computationally intensive, math-based software tools impact the way engineers do design and analysis,” says Bailey. “We are also interested in how these tools can enable outsourcing, and what obstacles stand in the way.”

The project concentrates on how digitized virtual modeling and analysis is replacing physical modeling and other more time-consuming methods, and also how these tasks can be made portable. For example, the study of aerodynamics usually depends on constructing actual prototype cars that can be put in a wind tunnel to test how easily air passes over their surface. The methods that Bailey, Barley and the group from GM study make it possible to test the aerodynamics of a particular design computationally without ever building a physical model. This way, design data can be sent from a design office in the United States to virtual testing facilities in India, Mexico or elsewhere.

“We are moving toward an intensification of abstraction and a greater use of virtual models rather than physical prototypes,” says Bailey. This transition toward virtual modeling has the capacity to affect “how engineers think, how they collaborate, what they need to know and what skills they should possess, and how they should be organized.” It is these fundamental changes in the engineering workplace that Bailey, Barley and GM researchers hope to address with this project.

Bailey is particularly proud of the cooperation with GM that this award will make possible. “These awards typically represent collaborations between institutions, but this represents a unique collaboration with industry,” she says. In addition to this award, Bailey and Barley had the opportunity to train members of GM’s research and development staff and recently hosted GM research scientist Hallie Kintner as a visiting scholar. Both instances, in Bailey’s opinion, demonstrate “a rare and highly collaborative research endeavor” between academia and industry.

As part of the project, the researchers intend to examine how the software tools may affect the feasibility and efficacy of outsourcing. “This work may shed some light on what the distribution for outsourcing of engineering work may look like 15 to 20 years from now,” explains Bailey. She recognizes that the project may have a significant effect on business policy. “These models are digitized in a way that may facilitate outsourcing of professional work at the task level. The work has implications for national and corporate policy as regards outsourcing, but we are making no prescriptions as to what should be done.”

Matthew Early Wright is a science writing intern at Stanford News Service.

Editor Note:

This release was written by science writing intern Matthew Early Wright. Photos of Bailey and Barley are available at



Dawn Levy, News Service: (650) 725-1944,


Diane Bailey, Management Science and Engineering: (650) 723-3821,

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