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Engineering Design: Definition & Process

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will define engineering design and explain the engineering design process from defining the problem to testing and redesigning the final product.

What is Engineering Design?

Henry Petroski, a well-known engineer and author, said, ''Science is about knowing; engineering is about doing.'' Engineers combine science, math, technology, and creativity to create solutions to problems and develop products. When creating science projects, scientists use the scientific method to collect evidence about a problem. Similarly, engineers use the engineering design process to solve a problem or develop a new or better product. Let's examine the engineering design process.

Define the Problem

The first step in engineering design is to define the problem. When writing a problem statement, you will need to know the Who? What? And Why? of the proposed project. For example, ''Jaimie needs a device for cooking eggs using solar energy because the electricity is out.''

Research

Once the problem has been defined, the engineer will research existing solutions either to create something similar or identify problems that need to be avoided. For example, when researching cooking with solar energy, Jaimie may find that others have tried cooking on the sidewalk and failed because concrete does not conduct heat as well as other surfaces.

Specify Requirements

The engineer will determine which elements will be required in order for the solution to be successful. For example, the solar cooker needs to be able to focus the sun's rays in the direction of the eggs, the cooking surface needs to conduct heat, and the cooking area needs to be insulated to prevent heat from escaping.

Brainstorm Solutions

The next step is to brainstorm as many solutions as possible. You need to examine multiple alternatives before deciding on a single solution. It is never a good idea to go with the first thing that pops into your head before looking at other ideas. This is a time for creativity. To generate lots of ideas, you may want to consider the best parts of existing solutions or create analogies between this problem and other problems. Write, draw, and give yourself ample time to come up with ideas. The best approach may be days away.

Choose the Best Solution

Compare your solutions to the requirements to determine which one best meets your needs. Some things that should be considered include cost, time, safety, skill, resources, and aesthetics. Sometimes a simple pros and cons list can be used to compare ideas. Sometimes, you will need a more complex analysis of how well each solution meets your needs.

Development and Design

Next, the engineer will create drawings, models, blueprints, or storyboards to design a solution for optimal results. Sometimes, this involves determining which materials are the most practical choice to use given available resources.

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