The Renaissance of Engineering Design

Think about all the products on the market today. There is a product for every need imaginable from mobile phones, refrigerators and cars, to heavy machinery and airplanes. Now think of all the different designs for every product type, each with its own set of features, capabilities and consumer preference.

When I bought a new refrigerator last year it took weeks to decide. After a few trips around town comparing different choices I ended up buying an LG with a stylish pantry design in stainless steel.

It was the look and feel of the refrigerator that drew me in, but its high performance, durability and energy star ratings are what ultimately sold me. Those attributes are the result of the work of engineers, supply-chain partners and service and support teams. Product design is so much more than just making something look good.

In a July editorial of the Journal of Mechanical Design, Professor James J. Duderstadt of the University of Michigan Science and Engineering Department writes: “Engineering design is an intellectual endeavor very similar to that encountered in the creative arts. It’s distinguished by rigor and use of scientific and technological tools.”

This characterization, he says, is in stark contrast to the public perception of design as something very routine. (Think huge rooms full of hundreds of engineers at drafting tables or computer workstations, or young designers with art backgrounds trying to develop the next “cool” car).

The truth is most of today’s cutting-edge product development occurs after an idea is hatched. This is when engineers apply their imagination, engineering prowess and a range of technologies to the task of fleshing out detailed specifications that culminate in a new product. Duderstadt argues that state-of-the-art engineering design processes could be the foundation for a 21st century renaissance.

So what does Duderstadt’s renaissance look like to me?

Let’s study the way engineering has evolved to incorporate digital tools for global interactive design. Today, engineers can work with state-of-the-art interactive modeling software in their web browsers to collaborate on product designs with global teams. Working together, they can make decisions about the optimal design for product manufacturability, quality and serviceability—all while the design is still a digital file. Imagine the possibilities for greater innovation.

Take LG, which seems to be leading the renaissance in terms of design innovation. Earlier this year, it won 11 international CES Innovations Awards for excellence in design and technology.

When I bought my refrigerator, I knew it wasn’t assembled in the United States, but what I didn’t realize was that numerous people around the globe had designed it, and state-of-the-art digital tools had made it possible.

What is your company doing to drive a 21st century renaissance in manufacturing, innovation and engineering design?

If you liked this story, read a best-practice story on detailed design.

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