The engineering design process is a crucial concept to understand engineering and the engineering mindset.
However, people doing research on the Internet may find it strange that there are different versions of this process. Some champion a brief model with as few as four steps, while others propose a 12-step process. Faced with these diverging versions, is natural to ask: How many steps are there in the engineering design process?
The engineering design process is a framework, a set of guidelines that help engineers reach their goals. This framework can change to fit certain specific needs. For example, the Boston Museum of Science uses a simplified six-step process (that NASA has adopted as well) to show children the basic principles that underlie engineering design.
Regardless of how many steps one uses to divide the engineering design process, most models are based on five principles: requirements, product concept, solution concept, embodiment design, and detailed design.
This is the most important phase of the engineering design process. Here engineers identify the needs of their customers. Keep in mind, however, that in this context “customer” doesn’t refer only to the final users; the term includes all those who will interact with the product in any capacity. For example, when designing a car the customers include the person who purchases the vehicle, but also the mechanics who will service it and the pedestrians who will interact with the car on the streets.
This phase also includes market analysis to get a complete picture of the needs that the engineers are looking to satisfy.
After outlining the requirements, the designer determines the actions the product should perform. Note that here engineers don’t focus on solutions to a specific problem, but rather on the basic functions of the product.
The usefulness of this mindset can be better illustrated with an example. Imagine that a carmaker asks an engineer to fix the design of a coin holder because the mechanism they currently use can’t hold the coins in place. If an engineer were to focus on the solution to this specific problem, they will limit themselves to fixing the design of the coin holder. If, on the other hand, they focus on the function the product should perform (holding the coins in place), they can come up with alternative solutions that can be significantly more effective.
The previous step frees the imagination of engineers and designers, setting the stage for solution conceptualization. All the information from the first two phases, including market research, informs the creative exercises that follow. This part of the engineering design process is not about detailed explanations, but about exploring all the alternatives that may fulfill the requirements of the first phase and the product conceptualizations (or functions) set forth in the second stage. Lists of alternatives (even those that appear outlandish) and free-hand sketches are some tools engineers use when they conceptualize solutions.
Here one of the solutions conceptualized in the previous phase is chosen and the final product begins to take shape. Engineers decide what technologies fit the concept at hand and implement them, arriving at a clear definition of how the final product will look like and how it will behave. The following elements are useful during the embodiment design phase:
- Technical drawings
- Safety considerations
- Human factors
The final phase of the engineering design process involves testing the solution to verify both its effectiveness and its manufacturability. Experiments and tests are conducted to measure all relevant parameters. The values acquired through experimentation and testing serve then as a guide to optimize the solution. This phase is also known as “detailed design”, and it may vary a lot depending on the project.
At Darnell Technical Services we have the expertise to always deliver outstanding results in engineering design. Our headquarters are located in Santa Ana, California, and we have an office in Las Vegas, Nevada. Contact us today by telephone (714-285-0082 (CA), 702-945-2899 (NV)) or through our social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to learn more about all the technical instruments and materials we put at your disposal.