Design Tools for Students
Today's design engineers need more than just "pure" engineering skills like AutoCAD and modelling: they need to be able to manage team work effectively, draw on diverse sources of information, communicate effectively with clients, and present their ideas in a persuasive fashion.
The NSERC Design Chair has amassed a "toolkit" for students looking to broaden the range of skills they bring to their design projects, and these tools are available to anyone on this page.
The toolkit is divided into four categories:
More and more, industry is recognising the value of teams in product development, and is therefore recruiting engineers who can function well within a team environment. A 1998 survey of over 700 engineers by EE Times revealed that over 80% of senior engineers are members of a development team, and the majority of those surveyed felt that a team approach resulted in a shortened design cycle and a higher quality product.
Meetings are an essential activity in the product design and development process. Unfortunately, meetings are not always used and conducted effectively, leading to wasted time, and where customers are involved, a reduced confidence in the design team. Meetings that are well organized with all participants adhering to a few basic guidelines can realize a great deal of productivity in a relatively short period of time.
A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) identifies tasks and deliverables associated with a project. Resources are identified for each item within the WBS that facilitates budgeting as well as assignment of responsibilities. The WBS can be used to determine the critical path of the project and create the project schedule.
Engineers are often called upon to conduct oral presentations. These may be small and informal, as would be an update to fellow team members, or may be involved affairs such as a design review or presentation to customers and management. All presentations must be extremely clear, concise and easy to follow, and generally take a great deal of careful planning and preparation.
A number of studies have revealed that presentation aids significantly contribute to the retention of presentation material. They help organize a presentation, capture and focus attention and maintain the interest of the audience. Presenters that use visual aids are generally perceived to be better presenters.
Once a presentation has been designed and aids developed, there are still a number of critical activities that must take place. These activities include the planning of equipment and facilities, rehearsal, and finally the delivery of the presentation itself. Many excellent presentations have failed because these details have been neglected.
Design reviews provide a forum in which questions can be answered, assumptions clarified and advice sought. They are a useful mechanism whereby the design of a product can be optimised through a systematic review of, and feedback on, design process outputs. Typically a number of formal and informal reviews are conducted during the duration of a design project.
Design verification is an essential step in the development of any product. Also referred to as qualification testing, design verification ensures that the product as designed is the same as the product as intended. Unfortunately, many design projects do not complete thorough design qualification resulting in products that do not meet customer expectations and require costly design modifications.
Eliciting customer input is key to ensuring that the product being developed is focused on customer needs - both hidden and explicit. Careful and thorough attention to gathering customer needs will mitigate the risk of missed requirements and provide the basis for the product specification. Interaction with the customer is an invaluable exercise that will lead to superior design solutions including those that a customer may have conceptualised but has never had the forum to present.
Documentation of the engineering that records the work that has gone into the development of a product is a crucial component of any project. Both formal and informal records provide a basis for future reference. These records may become necessary to provide a history of the design if there is a turnover in staff, if patent applications are made, or in the case of legal action, where the demonstration of professional practices is necessary.
The ready availability of a wide variety of starting materials will greatly facilitate the realisation of a variety of products that can be manufactured. Knowledge of the range of readily available options will clearly be beneficial for the purposes of both designing and manufacturing these products and will help lead to optimal outcomes.
A single designer or even a team of designers cannot have knowledge about all aspects of every design they attempt. It would not be feasible to acquire expertise in all required areas, therefore it is necessary to turn to other sources for knowledge and ideas. Fortunately, these sources are numerous, and thanks to modern communication and the Internet, information can be sought globally, often at little cost.
Poor requirements management is more often than not the culprit causing schedule delays and cost overruns on design and development projects. Generating well-defined requirements, documenting, and carefully managing these requirements is key to a successful project.
The Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) is a systematic method by which potential failures of a product or process design are identified, analysed and documented. Once identified, the effects of these failures on performance and safety are recognized, and appropriate actions are taken to eliminate or minimize the effects of these failures. A FMEA is a crucial reliability tool that helps avoid costs incurred from product failure and liability.
The Kano Model of Customer (Consumer) Satisfaction classifies product attributes based on how they are perceived by customers and their effect on customer satisfaction. These classifications are useful for guiding design decisions in that they indicate when good is good enough, and when more is better.
Evaluation matrices are used to evaluate a number of options against prioritized criteria. This process is relatively simple to apply and aids the team in making objective decisions.
Prioritization matrices are useful for applying a systematic approach to weighting/prioritizing criteria towards evaluating solutions against the criteria. The use of these matrices helps teams focus and come to a consensus on key items.