What does engineering design means? How to realize a good project? What are the main criteria for a good project?
Though creativity is very important and can make the difference between a good project and an ingenious one, a product design is based on rationality.
To make sure that a project is correctly developed is important to follow some fundamental steps that define its characteristics. So is necessary have a standard and systematic approach to the problem, to make a rational design and production process, without make it rigid.
Let’s explain some basic concept. First question: why a project (or a product) start? Maybe the answer can be obvious…maybe not.
The idea comes from necessity to achieve a target, like satisfy a sector of market, solve a problem in an actual component, or realize a new idea. In every case the real object is sell…make money!
To find a solution for a problem is necessary that designer uses some criteria in its work.
So designer is important for the success of a product.
Which are the main designer’s activities? Different classifications can be made, but for sure some phases are like milestones:
- Concept: first of all designer has to find conceptual solutions. they can be methods or products;
- Embodiment: in this phase designer has to think how apply the conceptual solution;
- Detailing: after concept and embodiment phases are defined, details of single product components or processes need to be defined
The approach to the problem
In this phase may be convenient evaluate the global function of the new product (or method) and then split it in simpler subsystems, related each other. This simplify the analysis.
The whole group of the main system and subsystems is named as function structure.
Still, in the conceptual phase the designer can follow some guidelines, like a checklist, to find a solution starting from the problem:
- Problem analysis: collect informations, conduct market analysis, study known similar cases;
- Objects definition: to have more clear how the final result has to be;
- Definition of different solutions;
- Solutions analysis, in order to find strength and weaknesses;
- Choosing of the best solution;
- Solution development.
Also in this case is important keep in mind that these guidelines are flexible, are an iterative procedure, and at the end of each point is possible come back to every of the previous point and analyse the process from different point of view.
Some principal points are identified as milestones of a project, from the idea to the final product. In this way for the designer is easier keep every activity under control, increasing his own efficiency. Let’s have a look what they are.
1. Requirements definition
Generally the request for a new product starts from marketing office, that based on marketing research and field studies define what need to be produced. Clearly this is not always true, because a new product can be created in order to improve the quality of one other already produced, to solve some problems of the existing one, or satisfy new laws. The marketing office anyway leads this phase, in order to improve company sales.
After the target is defined, informations are shared with the engineering office, where main requirements of the product are defined.
For example an Automotive company can decide to produce a vehicle that satisfy a particular market segment. A vehicle typology is defined (sport, SUV, utility, etc…), and other details.
2. Conceptual design
In this second phase a solution is funded, initially with a high degree of abstraction. In the case of the example it can be a car conceptual sketch, where characteristic lines, dimensions and proportions on the new car are realized.
Also in this phase are established the global function principle and functional structures.
To find solutions to a problem or to define an innovative one can be helpful the following methodologies:
- Split the main problem to sub-problems, essentials or not; each of these splitted one more time in smaller ones
- Apply the convergent thinking, where the starting point is the target to achieve, and from this every different solution is analysed;
- Apply the divergent thinking, where starting from the solution, hypothesis on different solutions are made, and from these much more are made of. This method emphasizes the creative side of the designer.
The concept is shared with designers who define technical feasibility and define the general layout of the product.
Every single component of the assembly is defined, specifying shapes, materials, costs, etc… Technical drawings are made and the bill of material is created.
In order to correctly define design timetable and for an effective planning, activities need to be identified, with its correlations.
Need to be estimated also the length for every activity, based on its complexity and the number of people involved.
A useful tool used to have the control on every activity, time, and people involved, is the Gantt chart.
What’s the key for a successful product? This is the fundamental question. The answer is enclosed in three points. A product is a successful one if it:
- Satisfies customers needs;
- Is sold at the right moment;
- It is sold at the right price.
The last point is strictly dependent to the designing phase: the price of the final product is the sum of different parts, the main of these can be expressed ad equation.
Design costs + production costs + earnings = final cost of the product
Design costs are the main aspects, so if we would reduce as much as possible the final price, we need to plan in effective way the design process, for example in order to reduce loops between phases. This probability is furthermore reduced if tasks and responsibilities of every human resource are defined, and also sharing informations.