RINET Building product database

Demonstrator for product property based information search in distributed manufactured products and components databases on the Internet for building products.

Introduction

The objective of RINET research project is to implement a prototype building product library on the Internet. The prototype demonstrates the use of a central service on the Internet to maintain a index database to information on building products stored in distributed manufacturer and supplier databases and web sites.  The index is searchable on product properties, building classification codes, keywords and free text. The project also demonstrates the re-use of parametric product data in user applications. To obtain the objectives, a conceptual framework (fig 1.), special software tools and associated databases have been developed in the project. The software tools and associated databases by role of actors include:

A conceptual framework

Fig 1. A conceptual framework

Manufactures and suppliers

Specific RINET product databases for manufactured product information maintained by product manufacture or supplier. Database authoring tool for populating the RINET product database.
Information providers
Index database and indexing tool to automatically collect index data from distributed manufacturer RINET databases. Server software to manage and service end-user query-requests to the index database.
End-Users
Client-side software components for web browsers or user applications to query the index database and to connect to manufacturer or supplier web-servers to download detailed product information.


The software and databases are developed using object-oriented technology. Software components were implemented in Java and C++ while the databases were implemented in the object database system POET.

The RINET project is part of the finish national VERA program.

Background

Manufacturers of building products are increasingly producing information on their products in electronic format. The product information is usually a reproduction of their paper product catalogues and product information sheets counterparts. The popularity of the World Wide Web for providing product information to clients has expedited this development as manufacturers recognize the potential marketing power of the web and conversion of older versions of CD-ROM based product information sources are currently being transferred on to the Web. With no standard guidelines available to structure the product data, manufacturers have produced product information sites in a variety of data formats that offer limited search capabilities and re-use of product data. Existing building product libraries, in most cases, allow a search based on keywords or product category that returns a list of manufacturers, which in turn allow browsing of products available by each manufacturer. Product information is normally provided as plan text and pictures but searching for products that match defined properties is usually not supported.

End-users such as consultants (architects engineers), contractors and clients (building owner/operators) are faced with the dilemma of firstly identifying and locating the Internet-sites that offer relevant information and secondly having to learn to operate a new user-interface and search strategy each time they log onto a new site. Having matched the product data to their search criteria, re-keying of the information into user applications is usually necessary.

Architecture - the RINET approach

The RINET System comprises the following main components: RINET manufacturer database and manufacturer web-site at manufacturer server, index server at information providers server, end-user tool to search for and access product information on the Internet.

The index server is a centrally located service running at an information provider site. The clear advantages of having a central service may be summarized from the end-user and manufacturer perspective as:

The main software components of the index server are the index database, indexing tool, which allows automatic indexing of RINET manufacturer databases over the Internet and the query server which handles requests from the client side. Information on products in the index database are maintained in indexed property sets for quick search results. Property sets may both contain searchable product properties as well as other information about the product and manufacturer. All property set based product information is returned to the user for browsing as a result from a query. Other information contained in the index database are multiple classification codes per product, URLs for identifying remote locations on relevant product information for user downloading.

RINET manufacturer database. The RINET manufacturer database provides the manufacturers with a standardized means of presenting information on their products. As with the index database all information on a product are provided and maintained in property sets. An authoring tool (fig 2.) is provided for manufactures. The tool provides functionality to browse, edit and enter product data into the RINET database. A key aspect of the RINET architecture is to duplicate as little product information to the index server as possible that are not relevant to the property based search method used. Therefor does the manufacturer ability to provide detailed product information via a web-site play an important role in the architecture. Information such as detailed product information sheets, technical data applicable standards, codes, approvals, environmental aspects, installation and maintenance instructions, configurability and options available, pictures, CAD files, price and availability.

An authoring tool

Fig 2. An authoring tool.

End-user tool. The RINET central service allows a web enabled client application or a web browser to query the Product Index Server for available products based on product properties.

When the client connects to the index server an Applet is downloaded to the client side (fig 3.) that handles the functionality of the user-interface. The client interface is based on the Finish Building 90 classification system. The client first selects a classification code that best matches the category of products being search for and retrieves from the index server a screen form with available properties defined for that classification code or matching product category.
 
 

Fig 3. The client interface

The client then constructs a query by selecting or entering values for the properties that match his design and submits the query back to the index server. If the index server finds any products with matching property values specified in the query they are returned to the client in a list for browsing (fig 4.) when browsing the products returned by the query the user can at the same time view all property values available with the product. This way the user can easily differentiate between products returned by the index server. Further information regarding a product can then be accessed via the URL also returned. The URL will connect the end-user directly to the relevant web page on the manufacturer web-site.

Fig 4. A result of query
 
 
 

Back to the main page