Pieter Vermaas Research and Publications
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Research on how engineers use the concept of function resulted in detailed analyses of a number of engineering design methods (e.g., John Gero's FBS method and the method by Stone and Wood) and of functional decomposition in design consisting of breaking up a technical function into a number of interconnected subfunctions. The phenomenon that there are different concepts of function in use in engineering is challenging from a philosophical and methodological point of view, specifically since in engineering the majority position seems to be that this co-existence of different concepts is to be accepted. Hence, in engineering function is seen as a key-concept in, for instance, design, yet efforts to disambiguate the term, or to arrive at a single meaning of function are not generally endorsed. Attempts to explain why function has this flexible meaning in engineering are given in the 2009 ICED proceedings contribution and the 2013 Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing paper; this latter paper is part of a special issue edited together with Claudia Eckert (Open University, UK) for letting design researchers to reflect on the existence of different engineering concepts of function.

Functional decomposition is of interest from a logical and mereological point of view. Subfunctions that together make up an overall function are in engineering often taken as the parts of the overall function. In many cases this part-whole relationship for functions is introduced in a colloquial way, meaning so much as that the components of an artefact that realise subfunctions may be taken as parts of the artefact that realises the overall function. In some cases the relationship is however introduced in a more formal sense, presenting the question whether functional decomposition defines a formal part-whole relation directly among functions. This question does not have a single answer given that there are different concepts of function in use in engineering. In the 2013 Research in Engineering Design paper it is proved for two out of three archetypical engineering meanings of function that the relation between functions and subfunctions as defined by functional decomposition does not meet the basic mereological postulates that hold for formal part-whole relations.



Vermaas, P.E., and C. Eckert (2013) Functional Descriptions in Engineering, Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing 27 (3) (Editorial: My Functional Description is Better! Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing 27, 187-190).[link]



Vermaas, P.E. (2013) On the Co-Existence of Engineering Meanings of Function: Four Responses and Their Methodological Implications, Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing 27, 191-202.[link]

Vermaas, P.E. (2013) On the Formal Impossibility of Analysing Subfunctions as Parts of Functions in Design Methodology, Research in Engineering Design 24, 19-32.[link]

Vermaas, P.E. (2011) Accepting Ambiguity of Engineering Functional Descriptions, in T.J. Howard, K. Mougaard, T.C. McAloone and C.T. Hansen (eds.), Proceedings of the 18th International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED11), Copenhagen, Denmark, 15-18 August, 2011, Volume 2 (Design Society), pp. 98-107.[pdf]

Carrara, M., P. Garbacz and P.E. Vermaas (2011) If Engineering Function is a Family Resemblance Concept: Assessing Three Formalization Strategies, Applied Ontology 6, 141-163.[link]

Vermaas, P.E. (2010) Focussing Philosophy of Engineering: Analyses of Technical Functions and Beyond, in I. van de Poel and D.E. Goldberg (eds.) Philosophy and Engineering: An Emerging Agenda (Dordrecht: Springer), pp. 61-73.[link]

Vermaas, P.E. (2010) Technical Functions: Towards Accepting Different Engineering Meanings with One Overall Account, in I. Horváth, F. Mandorli and Z. Ruzák (eds.) Proceedings of the Eighth International Symposium on Tools and Methods of Competitive Engineering – TMCE 2010, April 12-16, Ancona, Italy, Vol. 1, Tools and Methods of Competitive Engineering (Delft University of Technology), pp. 183-194.[pdf]

Vermaas, P.E. (2009) The Flexible Meaning of Function in Engineering, in eProceedings of the 17th International Conference on Engineering Design, Stanford, California, USA, August 24-27, 2009, pp. 2.113-2.124.[pdf]

Vermaas, P.E. (2008) On Engineering Meanings and Representations of Technical Functions, in 2008 ASME Design Engineering Technical Conferences & Computers and Information in Engineering Conference DETC2008, August 3-6, 2008, Brooklyn, New York, paper no DETC2008-49342.[pdf]

Vermaas, P.E. (2008) Modelling Functions as Operations on Material, Energy and Signal Flows: Conceptual Problems and Possible Solutions, in I. Horváth and Z. Ruzák (eds.) Proceedings of the Seventh International Symposium on Tools and Methods of Competitive Engineering – TMCE 2008, April 21-25, Izmir, Turkey, Vol. 1, Tools and Methods of Competitive Engineering (Delft University of Technology), pp. 467-478.[pdf]

Vermaas, P.E. (2007) The Functional Modelling Account of Stone and Wood: Some Critical Remarks, in 16th International Conference on Engineering Design, Design for Society: Knowledge, Innovation and Sustainability, 28-30 August, 2007, Paris, France (Ecole Centrale Paris).[pdf]

Vermaas, P.E., and K. Dorst (2007) On the Conceptual Framework of John Gero's FBS-model and the Prescriptive Aims of Design Methodology, Design Studies 28, 133-157.[link]

van Eck, D., D.A. McAdams and P.E. Vermaas (2007) Functional Decomposition in Engineering: A Survey. in 2007 ASME International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference DETC2007, September 4-7, 2007, Las Vegas, Nevada, paper no. DETC2007-34232.[pdf]

Dorst, K., and P.E. Vermaas (2005) John Gero's Function-Behaviour-Structure Model of Designing: A Critical Analysis, Research in Engineering Design 16, 17-26.[link]