Examples of Knowledge Work Systems

Major knowledge work applications include CAD systems and virtual reality systems for simulation and modeling. Computer-aided design (CAD) auto­mates the creation and revision of designs, using computers and sophisticated graphics software. Using a more traditional physical design methodology, each design modification requires a mold to be made and a prototype to be tested physically. That process must be repeated many times, which is very expensive and time-consuming. Using a CAD workstation, the designer need only make a physical prototype toward the end of the design process because the design can be easily tested and changed on the computer. The ability of CAD software to provide design specifications for the tooling and manufacturing processes also saves a great deal of time and money while producing a manufacturing process with far fewer problems.

For example, Ford Motor Company used a computer simulation to cre­ate an engine cylinder to come up with the most efficient design possible.

Engineers altered that design to account for manufacturing constraints and tested the revised design virtually in models that used decades of data on material properties and engine performance. Ford then created the mold to make a real part that could be bolted onto an engine for further testing. The entire process took days instead of months and cost thousands of dollars in­stead of millions.

CAD systems can supply data for 3-D printing, also known as additive man­ufacturing, which uses machines to make solid objects, layer by layer, from specifications in a digital file. Unlike traditional techniques, by which objects are cut or drilled from molds, resulting in wasted materials, 3-D printing lets workers model an object on a computer and print it out with plastic, metal, or composite materials. 3-D printing is currently used for prototyping, custom manufacturing, and fashioning items with small production runs. Today’s 3-D printers can handle materials including plastic, titanium, and human carti­lage and produce fully functional components including batteries, transistors, prosthetic devices, LEDs, and other complex mechanisms, and there are now 3-D printing services that run over the cloud, such as that offered by Staples.

Virtual reality (VR) systems have visualization, rendering, and simula­tion capabilities that go far beyond those of conventional CAD systems. They use interactive graphics software to create computer-generated simulations that are so close to reality that users almost believe they are participating in a real- world situation. In many virtual reality systems, the user dons special clothing, headgear, and equipment, depending on the application. The clothing contains sensors that record the user’s movements and immediately transmit that in­formation back to the computer. For instance, to walk through a virtual real­ity simulation of a house, you would need garb that monitors the movement of your feet, hands, and head. You also would need goggles containing video screens and sometimes audio attachments and feeling gloves so that you can be immersed in the computer feedback.

At NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, students wearing 3-D glasses are able to “dissect” a virtual cadaver projected on a screen. With the help of a computer, they can move through the virtual body, scrutinizing lay­ers of muscles or watching a close-up of a pumping heart along with bright red arteries and deep blue veins. The 3-D virtual cadaver is a valuable complemen­tary teaching tool. The Interactive Session on Technology describes some of the issues raised by applications of VR technology.

Augmented reality (AR) is a related technology for enhancing visual­ization by overlaying digital data and images onto a physical real-world envi­ronment. The digital technology provides additional information to enhance the perception of reality, making the surrounding real world of the user more interactive and meaningful. The yellow first-down markers shown on televised football games are examples of augmented reality as are medical procedures like image-guided surgery, where data acquired from comput­erized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans or from ultrasound imaging are superimposed on the patient in the operating room. Other industries where AR has caught on include military training, engineering design, robotics, and consumer design. For example, Newport News Shipbuilding, which designs and builds U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, uses AR to inspect a ship near the end of the manufacturing process. By seeing the final design superimposed on the ship, engineers have reduced inspection time by 96 percent—from 36 hours to only 90 minutes (Porter and Heppelmann, 2017).

Source: Laudon Kenneth C., Laudon Jane Price (2020), Management Information Systems: Managing the Digital Firm, Pearson; 16th edition.

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