The engineering design process was developed to aid engineers design sound solutions to the problems in industry.
The task of designing can be extremely complicated and time consuming if there is no process to guide us.
The process to be discussed below can literally be applied to any field in engineering. Thus a clear understanding will hold you in good stead regardless of where you find yourself.
Firstly, some design truths.
Engineers are by nature more practical than creative.
This will hinder your design capability especially in cases where innovation is required. Luckily, creativity can be nurtured and developed by simple exaggeration.
Next time you have a design task, think of the most outlandish solutions to the problem. Doing this often will aid your creativity in times when its really required.
This is the part that most engineers are comfortable with. Iteration is required to ensure that the best possible design solution is found.
The Engineering Design Process
1. Identifying the Problem
The definition of engineering design is simple
Design defines and creates solutions to problems
This all starts by clearly identifying the problem.
Most problems though are brought to the engineer by people not directly involved in engineering. It is the engineer’s responsibility to get to the bottom of the problem as most problems reported are simply symptoms of a bigger underlying monster.
A Typical Design Brief will include the following
- Objectives – What needs to be achieved?
- Design Constraints – What are the boundaries that can be worked in?
- Evaluation – How do we measure success?
With regards to the design constraints a list of specifications is usually supplied.
Common Design Specifications
- Life Expectancy
- Operating Conditions
- Dimensional Tolerances
- Weight Considerations
- Manufacturing Capability
These are the most common and would typically be part of every design brief.
2. Finding Relevant Information
This step is largely dependent on the innovation required for the design work. Engineers that work in fields that are ever changing will have a harder time finding relevant information.
Where to Find Engineering Information
- In House Experts
- Industry Journals
- Case Studies
This is were the design work starts in earnest.
Concepts are created by combining the design elements, processes and arrangements to meet the design objectives.
The more concepts created generally ensures a better design outcome.
The actual concepts must either be created analytically (using theory) or experimentally (practically building scaled prototypes).
It simply cannot be just brainstorming, there has to be substance behind the concept.
4. Evaluation & Analysis
Once a few concepts have been decided upon then a thorough evaluation of each can be done.
This is primarily done to weed out the poor concepts and to optimize the good ones.
This can be done using the following methods
- Experimental Testing
- Analytical Model Testing
- Full Size Prototype Testing
Time and Money available will determine how long the design optimization process lasts.
Once a solution has been found, it needs to be communicated to all relevant parties.
This may be a client, management or a design head.
Marketing your idea is an important skill that every designer must practice. The basis of all idea marketing is in communication, where three forms are prevalent.
- Oral (Presentations)
- Written (Reports)
- Graphically (Detailed Engineering Drawings)
Each should be mastered to aid persuasion
Remember that the process is iterative. If your evaluation and analysis breaks all your concepts then you must go back to find new ones.
Design can be fun if a clear process is followed.