The Engineering Design Process

Concurrent Engineering has been a buzz word for decades. I expect that there are dozens of similar terms for all types of development work. They all basically mean the same, relative to foresight and working as a team with the hopes of streamlining the Engineering design process. Within the design Engineering sector the onset of extremely powerful computers and software has made this process enormously easier. Perhaps it is best to look at it as a macro and micro perspective and it all has to happen in a concurrent fashion. From a micro sense, I’m speaking of all the engineering and design factions working as one; conceptualizing, designing and analyzing as one, targeted at producing a virtual prototype (computer simulation/model) that is indicative of the subject product or machine. From a macro sense, during this Engineering design process it is imperative that the Engineers keep in focus; risk, usability, fabrication, cost, marketing, etc.. Whether in a micro or macro sense, it is also important that the governing engineer establishes a level of effort required to satisfy the end objective and organizes and focuses appropriate resources. Knowing what capabilities are within each contributor’s wheelhouse is imperative to operating an effective and efficient team.

Phase I: Conceptualization, Design and Analysis targeted at the creation of a virtual prototype.
Design Engineering is about creating a solution to a problem or need. The conceptualization cannot begin without a proper problem or need statement. This statement often takes the form of a specification and statement of work (SOW). The specification is nothing more than defining the requirements and environment that the solution must exist. As is the case for a Machine or Product this means defining what need the machine will provide, where it’s going to provide it and who or what it will provide if for. The SOW merely states what we will do for the client, where it starts and where it ends. Once these simple questions are answered the conceptualization process will begin.

The conceptualization process does not happen in a vacuum. Since this machine actually has to work and exist in the real world physics, strengths of material, manufacturing processes, etc. all must be considered. So an iterative process begins weighing in all the different aspects necessary for the concept to develop into reality.

Design and Analysis happen in a virtual world. Today’s computer hardware and software have given the Engineer vast capabilities. The design takes shape as 3 dimensional models (Creo and Solidworks) with the computer where materials, weights, center of gravities are all part of the model. These same models can be used to perform mathematical simulations (Creo, Solidworks, Algor and Mathcad) capable of literally testing parts and assemblies before they even exist. Conceptualization, design and analysis have never been so united as they are in this 3 dimensional virtual world.

As much as Engineering provides enormous insight into the entire how and why things work is, it is important that the engineer keeps in mind that we don’t live in a perfect world. As the concept begins to morph into a real creation it is important that the engineer identifies where risk may be. Once these risk are identified a direct course of action must be devised to reduce these risk as much and as soon as possible. As these risk are identified they are mitigated by further analysis, contacting an expert or even the design of proof of concept test prototype.

Phase II: Detailed Dataset for Fabrication
The methods of fabrication are vast. Every day new technologies are developed giving the engineer additional tools to allow them to create. As powerful and wonderful as computers and software are, there is no substitute for the real thing. Prototyping is an integral part of the development process. Machines and products are made up of many parts; each part can be made many different ways. Parts can be made directly from the computer models utilizing the latest in laser technology, formed or molded by simple or very elaborate tools or by drawing very detailed 2 dimensional drawings for a machinist to decipher. Each method has its own assets and drawbacks. During Phase one decisions were made on how each part will be prototyped to meet the requirements and objective of that particular prototype. Some of the components will be a direct rendition of what may become the final component, others may have to fabricated by alternative methods due to the limited quantities being made at the time.

Phase III: Prototype build
Now that the dataset is complete Request for Quote (RFQ) are generated, suppliers are identified and contacted, quotes are received, Purchase orders are placed, parts are fabricated, received and assembled.

Phase IV: Test and Evaluate
Testing and evaluation takes many different forms. From as simple as a touch and see to sending prototypes to independent labs for scientific evaluation for shock, vibration, EMI, water proof, altitude….the list goes on. Testing and evaluation reveals how well the design satisfies the need or solves the problem. Once the level of acceptance has been satisfied the product can move on to the final phase.

Phase V: Ready and release for production
The design is completed and readied for production. Sometimes prototype fabrication can be much different that production fabrication methods. Components that were designed focused on fabrication methods available for prototype fabrication are redesigned for production fabrication. Generally these are components that expensive tooling is required to fabricate quantities of parts in an economical method.

Once the datasets are complete they are released for quote……..etc.

Phase VI: Production Evaluation
Despite the thoroughness of the datasets and drawing developed by Adept, throughout the production process suppliers require interface with the engineer to discuss alternative materials, methods of manufacture and clarification. Each supplier brings new elements to the table, after they are brought into the fold. Sometimes, revealing proprietary methods of manufacture that can improve the component and often reduce cost.

After tooling had been completed sample parts will be made for approval. The detailed dataset release defines a comprehensive set of requirements each part must adhere to. Again, we don’t live in a perfect world, so each part requires approval and sometimes revision to assure repeatability and quality of each part. Once samples of all parts have been received a complete assembly is created and evaluated. Once approved, now production commences.

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