A-level Graphic Products/Edexcel/Unit 3 :Designing for the Future/Industrial and commercial practice/Information and communication technology

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Email is a great way to allow data communications from within a company, or to other companies that might be on the other side of the earth. Email can be used to message, but it's the ability to attach a document to an email which makes it so useful for companies. Companies can attach computer-aided design (CAD) documents to their emails to allow multiple people to work on a project (providing that recipient has the correct software to open the CAD document).

Advantages Disadvantages
It's quick and easy to use and communicate with anyone around the world. In-boxes can be overrun by spam from unwanted emails.
Anyone that has an internet device can use it. Email can seem impersonal compared to human interaction or even video conferencing.
Documents can be attached so that other people can receive them. Documents that are attached are limited in size.
Emails can be saved for a long term record of events. Emails can be intercepted, therefore data isn't totally secure.
Doesn't require a fast internet connection. It takes a long time for someone to go through all of the emails, read them and reply to them.

Electronic data interchange (EDI)[edit]

EDI is a way for businesses to exchange information in a paperless way that is formatted to a standard over a computer network, rather than using the postal service. EDI is a fast, inexpensive and secure way for businesses to send data like purchase orders, invoices, design and manufacturing data to other businesses that they're linked with, like their product vendors. EDI can also be used to exchange payment and financial information in an electric form. EDI relies on the businesses that they're communicating and sharing their information to agree upon a standard for the structure of the file information.[1]

The data from the first business will need to be translated into the standard form that's agreed upon. The data is then sent to the other companies' inbox. At that end, the data is then re-interpreted into a form that can be used. When the data is obtained from one company, it can be automatically sent through this process. When it's received at the other end, this information can automatically go into that companies' database.[2]


  • Saves companies money as it's more efficient
  • No size limit on documents
  • Secure method of data transfer
  • Data is translated in a common format between companies
  • More reliable than email
  • Limits the amount of human interaction
  • Creates a paperless company
  • Information handling is greatly reduced.

You can learn more from here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1woSaNSnZc

Integrated services Digital Networks (ISDN) and Broadband[edit]

The purpose of ISDN is to provide a fast internet connection which allows for voice, data, text, graphics, music and video to be transmitted. ISDN allows for a constant digital data transfer from one end of the connection to the other that uses the traditional telephone line, while the telephone line uses analogue data to send the speech, to do this the data is split up, one part for broadband, the other part for the telephone line. Previously without ISDN that data will need to be converted from analogue to digital many times; ISDN fixes this by keeping it a constant digital signal.[3]

Asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL)[edit]

ADSL is the most popular type of broadband connection in the UK, it allows you to send data down your existing telephone line. ADSL gets your telephone line and splits in into two parts, one for the telephone, the other for an internet connection.

An example of digital subscriber line (DSL) splitting
  • Easy to install
  • Downloading data is much faster than sending.[4]

Fibre cable[edit]

Fibre is a new form of internet access which uses light down fibre-optic cable which means that the data is travelling at the speed of light. This is why this is the fastest possible form of connection to the internet as nothing can go faster than light. However, data transfer speeds could be improved by either using more cables, making less people use your cable, or to make the change from 0 to 1 in the cable faster.

  • It's easy to install
  • It's the fastest possible option for connection
  • It only available in built up areas like towns and cities, but overtime it will spread to more rural areas.


Wireless, or Wifi® is a way of relaying the information given by the transmitter (usually a router) and outputting that signal as a radio wave for other devices to connect to it through the radio waves. This creates a local-area network (LAN). Anyone within a certain range can pick-up the signal; the further away you go, the worse the signal will become until it become non-existent to you when you loose connection altogether.

  • Fast connection for downloading and uploading data.
  • Requires an expert to set-up the connection and maintain the network.
  • Interference can occur around built up areas, or areas with a lot of metal which cause the Faraday cage effect.
  • Wifi® isn't restricted to the local internet/telephone exchange.

3G and 4G technology[edit]

3G internet connections are usually used by phones and sometimes tablets, but they potentially can be used for any device. 3G relies on you linking to the nearest transmitter that you mobile phone carrier is providing, meaning that if you were to switch provider, you might get a better connection is some areas than others. The further that your device gets from the 3G transmitter, the worse your internet connection will be. 4G technology is coming and will soon be replacing 3G, currently it's only available in certain cities.[5]

  • It's a way for you to get internet on the move.
  • If you're in a rural area, then you might not get very good reception.


Satellite connections allow you to get your internet from a satellite in space. At your data goes up to space, and then back down again, this form of connection isn't terribly fast.

  • Available anywhere.
  • Quite expensive.
  • Can be interrupted by bad weather.

Satellite broadband comes in two forms, one-way connections and two-way connections.

One-way Satellite[edit]

One-way satellite broadband connections are faster than two-way broadband connections however they can only download information, not upload. If you wish to upload data then another form of connection is still needed like dial-up.

  • Download only
  • Faster than two-way

Two-way Satellite[edit]

Two-way connections allows for both download and upload, however the speed in which is does so is much slower than one-way. As this can do both download and upload, there strictly isn't a need for another form of internet connection, however as satellite connections can suffer from bad interference from weather, another form of connection could be useful.

  • Download and upload
  • Slower than one-way.

Video conferencing[edit]

Increases in broadband speed has enable the ability for two or more people to send video and audio data live to the other people while receiving the other person's video and audio at the same time. This is known as video conferencing. Video conferencing offers companies to a way to communicate in more personal way than text or the telephone; this means that ideas can be communicated in a better way to give a greater understanding of the information that they're telling to one another. This has an added ability compared to a phone to be able to show them the images or progress in the project via the use of the webcam.

When three or more people are in the video conference, this is known as multipoint video conferencing. These three or more points connect using a multipoint control unit (MCU) as a bridge for the connections between each other. This simulates a virtual conference as if they were sitting next to each other.

Advantages Disadvantages
More personal that text or telephone Connection can sometimes fail
Visual information like progress on a project can be shown through the webcam There can be problems with the time zones of each person in the video conference.
Eliminates the need for travel to other locations that might have otherwise been a long journey; this saves time and money for the company. People can be camera shy, especially as the call can be recorded without them knowing.
Training of staff can be done to many staff at the same time A lack of eye contact can hide the intent of the call
Calls can be recorded to allow people to review what was mentioned
Advantages to deaf people as they can use sign language

There are two forms of video conferencing, dedicated systems and desktop systems.

Dedicated systems[edit]

A dedicated system is a video conferencing device where all of the components of the device are packaged into one console.

An example of a dedicated video conferencing device

Desktop systems[edit]

A desktop systems are an adaptation of a normal desktop computer. This involves adding on a microphone and a webcam to the computer; this will 'transform' it into a video conferencing device. Examples of software for desktop systems would be Skype© and Google Hangouts©; although, in an exam you wouldn't get any marks for mentioning brand names.

Computer-aided design (CAD)[edit]

2D CAD (Left), 3D CAD (Right)

Computer-aided design (CAD) is a act of using a computer to do virtual modelling. This virtual modelling can be done in either 2D or in 3D. Modelling can be done as either a 'mock-up' or as the real design which can be used in conjunction with computer-aided manufacture (CAM).

Benefits of computer-aided design:

  • There are undo tools available so mistakes can be easily resolved
  • It's a faster way to create a model than traditional methods; if it's saving time, then it's saving money.
  • Clients can see a virtual representation of what the final object is going to look like
  • Measuring tools can be used to make sure that there is extreme accuracy.
  • If linked with CAM then manufacturing can be really quick, as they can link it to machines like 3D printers and laser cutters. This is assisted by the fact that the model is accuracy, and the machine is accurate so that the final product is exactly how they wanted. If more than one is produced, then each product is exactly the same, meaning that the customers will be happy.

Digital Mock-up (DMU)[edit]

A digital mock-up (DMU) is where the software is used a quick mock-up of what the final thing will look like. DMUs are used to give a better description of the product and can outline certain details of the object that might have otherwise been difficult to communicate with words. They have two main uses:

  • Showing to clients to see if they agree or not.
  • To better communicate the task to the designers of what they're going to create.

Computer-aided engineering (CAE)[edit]

Computer-aided engineering (CAE) is the broad usage of computer software to aid in engineering analysis tasks.


Virtual modelling and testing[edit]

This is the ability to create a 3D component/model in a computer within a virtual world rather than making a physical model; this saves development times. An advantage of virtual modelling is that changes can easily be made.

Bi-directional parametric modelling is the concept of when you edit one part of the model, other parts can adapt depending on that change, this speeds up development. An example of this would be mirrored modelling where changing one side, will be mirrored on the other side and make changes there too.[6]

Rapid prototyping[edit]

Example of Stereolithography

Rapid prototyping is where you can just convert your CAD designs into a complicated 3D object at the click of a button. Examples of this are Stereolithography and 3D Printing. This allows designers to review the function, ease of manufacture and marketability of a product within a few days of being being designed. This means that the product gets to market quicker, thus beating competition with other companies.

Rapid prototyping machines create objects with a high degree of accuracy meaning that every product is the same, meaning that customers are happy as all the product are the same. In-comparison with traditional methods, rapid prototyping has many advantages. There is no waste materials from the product and there aren't lots of machinery needed, only just one machine, in comparison to some other product which would potentially take many machines. Rapid prototyping eliminates the need for paying to have engineers as the machine does it all for you; this is better for the company, but it means that there are less jobs.

Process of stereolithography[edit]

  • It's designed using CAD
  • Information is then sent to the machine
  • Lasers used
  • Built up in layers
  • Liquid polymer granules used.
  • Material is then hardened
  • Where the beams intersect
  • Lower after each pass
  • Arm moves across top surface after each layer to ensure top surface is flat.

Marketing, distribution and retail[edit]

Electronic point of sale[edit]

EPOS systems allow businesses to be able to supply and deliver its products and services quicker due to reducing the time between the placing of an order and the delivery of a product. EPOS, essentially enables efficient recording of the sale of goods or services to the customer.

In EPOS systems, each product will have a unique barcode, allowing it to be electronically identified. This barcode is read via a barcode reader or scanner, which is passed over the barcode. The black bars reflect less light than the background, allowing the reader to detect them via the use of a laser.

A standard barcode

The barcode itself doesn't hold any data, instead the information is held within the EPOS system located within a shop. Typically, the checkout will scan the product, transmit the product code number to the in-store computer system which then transmits the products information back to the checkout. The in-store computer will then deduct the scanned item from the stock list to keep an up-to-date record of the stores stock; allowing the store to know when stock is running low and when to order more.

Advantages of EPOS and associated software:

  • A full and immediate account of the financial transactions involving the company's products.
  • Data can be input into spreadsheets for sale/profit margin analysis.
  • Allows the performance of all product lines to be monitored, allowing the manufacture to be able to react to demand.
  • Allows accurate information for identifying consumer buying trends.
  • Full and responsive stock control system with real-time stock updates.
  • Ensures sufficient stock is available to meet customer needs without over-stocking.

Internet marketing and sales[edit]

The internet is a great place for businesses to do marketing and advertisement. This allows companies to reach a larger audience (a global audience) when they do marketing. Additionally, they can then use the internet and websites to sell the products online with the use of delivery. This means that they can work online and don't need a physical shop, these are known as virtual companies.

Advantages and Disadvantages to the manufacturers and retailers[edit]

Advantages Disadvantages
They can have a wider audience (global audience) If a customers banking information is 'taken', then they will be responsible.
They can use marketing techniques online through the use of social media to market the product and increase the company's profile. If people have difficult using a computer, or navigating their website, then they could lose out on customers.
They can process orders and transactions automatically online, this means that it's faster and that there is no need to pay someone to do it.
They can obtain user statistics of marketing and user trends so they can market and produce their product according to that information.
It's less expensive as they don't need a real 'walk-in' store.
Less expensive marketing online compared to traditional methods like magazines and TV.

Advantages and Disadvantages to the customer[edit]

Advantages Disadvantages
Access to a wide range of products and services. Security concerns about bank details and personal information.
Availability of product information will help they decide whether or not they want to buy it. Slower internet connection can cause problems
They can get online discounts and saving through the use of comparison websites. Some users might have difficult navigating the website.
It's convenient as they can shop from home. Doesn't allow customers to have a hands on experience.
Spread of 'junk' mail is a concern to users.


  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVFI3I8LlRI
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1woSaNSnZc
  3. From a Youtube video by user: 00bit11, rough time 1:10 to 2:00 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYl5rDr88UA
  4. You can clearly see this if you run a simple speed test (providing that you're currently using ADSL). You can do this from a website called http://www.speedtest.net/
  5. http://gadgetynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/ee-uk-4g-city-coverage.jpg
  6. Bi-directional parametric modelling example at 2:18 to 2:33 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRZIMnUf3gA#t=138