Concurrent Engineering depends in a profound way on the use of computers. In this paper, we shall argue that we can best enhance the concurrent engineering process by improving the computational models that we use. We propose a multi-agent computational model to describe the parties involved in a concurrent engineering process.
Our approach involves identifying a hierarchy in which the function of a design agent at one level of abstraction is served by an agent who coordinates the activities of design agents at the next level. The concurrent engineering process is interpreted as the complementary construction of a computational object - the virtual prototype - that can be examined, used and altered by all parties. We explain and illustrate our methods and tools through a case-study based on the design of a machine tool drive shaft.