The world around you is filled with products that are made to fulfill a purpose. Now, that purpose can be fulfilling a need, fixing a problem or just satisfying a desire. That purpose and then a plan or strategy to fulfill that purpose is determined by the an iterative process called “Engineering Design Process”.
Engineering Design is an iterative and creative process, but more importantly it is a decision-making process. Decisions are to be made sometimes, with very less information and sometimes, with high amount of contradictory information. Designer has to be comfortable in making critical decisions and then sticking with them.
Also, Engineering Design is a communication-intensive process, where words and visuals are used to communicate ideas between designers and manufacturers.
Moreover, different kinds of sciences and arts are needed to develop a good design. These include mathematics, statistics, computers, graphics and more, which are all combined to develop a plan to fulfill a desired purpose.
All of these skills are used to develop a plan for a product or methodology that is functional, manufacturable, reliable, safe and marketable.
“Engineering Design is the process of developing a plan to produce a product, tangible or intangible that is intended to fulfill a purpose”
So, the plan to fulfill a purpose is called design, and process of developing that plan is called engineering design process.
6 Steps of Engineering Design Process
The engineering design process, from start to finish can be divided into six different steps.
It begins with an identification of need, problem or desire, and the decision to do something about it. Then the information of about that problem, need or desire is gathered, and target is determined, in step called definition of problem. Now, depending upon the nature of design, several models are developed by brainstorming, in synthesis step, and are then analyzed and optimized in analysis, and then evaluated in evaluation step.Here the workflow goes back and forth in an iterative style.
Then, the final design is presented in presentation step.
Let’s discuss all these steps in detail:
Step 1: Identification of Need, Problem or Desire
Identification of a need is a highly creative task, because most of the time, the need may be be a vague discomfort, a general uneasiness, or a feeling that something is just not right.
Most of the times, the need is not evident at all. Its perception only occurs as result of some adverse circumstances or some set of random circumstances.
So, high creativity and a keen eye to improve is needed to identify the need.
For example, before tech giant Apple Inc. introduced the world to iphone, no one even knew that we even need a handheld computer, but Steve Jobs identified the need or desire.
In contrast, Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM in 1943 once said that:
“there is only need of 4 computers in the entire world “.
And nowadays there are more than 4 computers in one house. So, he was not able to identify the need, problem or desire.
So, one has to be watchful and creative while identifying the need.
Step 2: Definition of Problem
Here comes the technical stuff.
This step is where engineers gather the exact information about the problem or need, in terms of concrete numbers, as well as about the product to be developed as well.
For example, shortfall in electricity supply is a problem. For this, the information like amount of shortfall, size of location available to build a power plant etc, all constraints etc. are needed to be gathered in this second step.
For this you can consider the product to develop like a black box, and this is the step where the inputs and desired outputs are determined, in concrete numbers.
These specifications and limitations usually include cost, desired life of product, expected life, operating temperatures, desired reliability, weight limitations and much more.
The specifications and limitations are dependent upon the nature of problem.
This is a very critical step, because getting the information wrong may result in a design that does not fulfill the need the way it is needed to.
Step 3: Synthesis
Now comes the actual designing step.
It begins with connecting all possible system elements to develop a scheme, which serves as a guideline or reference frame for final design. This scheme is called as concept design, which does not contain any information about true dimensions, but just a sketch of product, showing how it will work and look.
This is the first and most important task in syntheses step.
Here, various concept designs are developed, checked and optimized.
Promising concept designs are compared so that the path leading to the best possible product can
Step 4: Analysis and Optimization
As, mentioned previously, engineering design process has an iterative workflow, where going back and forth from one step to other happens very often. .
And, specially synthesis and analysis and optimization steps and intertwined with each other in that iterative manner.
In this step, the designs of components of system to be developed are tested and optimized to get the best possible design.
Therefore, we may synthesize several components of a system, analyze and optimize them, and return to synthesis to see what effect this has on the remaining parts of the system.
Both analysis and optimization require that engineers construct or devise abstract models of the system that will admit some form of mathematical analysis. These models are called mathematical models. In creating them, engineers hope that they can find one that will simulate the real physical system very well.
Step 5: Evaluation
Evaluation is a significant phase of the total design process.
Evaluation is the final proof of a successful design and usually involves the testing of a prototype.
Here engineers wish to discover if the design really satisfies the needs. For example, following questions regarding the product need to be answered during this step:
- Is it reliable?
- Will it compete successfully with similar products?
- Is it economical to manufacture and to use?
- Is it easily maintained and adjusted?
- Can a profit be made from its sale or use?
- How likely is it to result in product-liability lawsuits?
- And is insurance easily and cheaply obtained?
- Is it likely that recalls will be needed to replace defective parts or systems?
The project designer or design team will need to address a myriad of engineering and non-engineering questions.
Step 6: Presentation
Presentation is perhaps, the most decisive step in realization of an engineering design.
Undoubtedly, many great designs, inventions, and creative works have been lost to posterity simply because the originators were unable or unwilling to properly explain their accomplishments to others.
Presentation is a selling job. The engineer, when presenting a new solution to administrative, management, or supervisory persons, is attempting to sell or to prove to them that their solution is a better one.
Unless this can be done successfully, the time and effort spent on obtaining the solution have been largely wasted. When designers sell a new idea, they also sell themselves. If they are repeatedly successful in selling ideas, designs, and new solutions to management, they begin to receive salary increases and promotions; in fact, this is how anyone succeeds in his or her profession.
So, presentation is a key and final step in engineering design process.
Tools for Engineering Design Process
Nowadays, an engineer has a great variety of tools and resources available to assist in the solution of design problems. Several microcomputers like Raspberry Pi and robust computer software packages provide tools of immense capability for the design, analysis, and simulation of components.
In addition to these tools, the engineer always needs technical information, either in the form of basic science/engineering behavior or the characteristics of specific components. Here, the resources can range from science/engineering textbooks to manufacturers’ brochures or catalogs.
Overall, the computer plays a major role in engineering design process.
Computer-aided design (CAD) software allows the development of three-dimensional (3-D) designs from which conventional two-dimensional orthographic views with automatic dimensioning can be produced.
Manufacturing tool paths can be generated from the 3-D models, and in some cases, parts can be created directly from a 3-Ddatabase by using a rapid prototyping and manufacturing method (stereolithography), or 3D printing.
Also, there are mathematical computational softwares like MATLAB and Simulink from Mathworks, Maple, Mathematica and Octave etc.
Engineering Design Process is an iterative, creative and decision making process that very much shapes all the products we see around us.
It is difficult and complicated, but also extremely important and beneficial. It is science and art molded into one.