Nearly every artifact of the modern engineering design process is digitally recorded and stored, resulting in an overwhelming amount of raw data detailing past designs. Analyzing this design knowledge and extracting functional information from sets of digital documents is a difficult and time-consuming task for human designers. For the case of textual documentation, poorly written superfluous descriptions filled with jargon are especially challenging for junior designers with less domain expertise to read. If the task of reading documents to extract functional requirements could be automated, designers could actually benefit from the distillation of massive digital repositories of design documentation into valuable information that can inform engineering design. This paper presents a system for automating the extraction of structured functional requirements from textual design documents by applying state of the art Natural Language Processing (NLP) models. A recursive method utilizing Machine Learning-based question-answering is developed to process design texts by initially identifying the highest-level functional requirement, and subsequently extracting additional requirements contained in the text passage. The efficacy of this system is evaluated by comparing the Machine Learning-based results with a study of 75 human designers performing the same design document analysis task on technical texts from the field of Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS). The prospect of deploying such a system on the sum of all digital engineering documents suggests a future where design failures are less likely to be repeated and past successes may be consistently used to forward innovation.

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