An engineer does many things throughout his career. He fabricates, he develops, and he prototypes, but the most important thing that he does is design. In the engineering profession, there are many different definitions and processes for design, but one, called “The 12 Step Design Process,” is very commonly used.
This process, like many others, simply begins with a problem.
This problem is researched and refined into a more definite, solvable obstacle. The next step, referred to as “Brainstorming”, is one where you present hypothetical solutions in an open, non-hostile environment. No ideas are rejected and you fire off ideas as fast as you can. In this stage, quantity is far more important than quality. Next, you research and generate ideas One method to do this is to conduct interviews with those affected by the problem and research previous solutions while evaluating their shortcomings. Then, after you have done extensive research, you report the findings to your design team. The next step is to identify what you want the solution to do and the degree to which the solution will be pursued. This is also the step in which you begin identifying criteria and specifying constraints. Though they sound similar, criteria and constraints are different entities. A criterion is a principle or standard by which something may be judged or decided while a constraint is a limit to a design process. This limit may be such things as appearance, funding, space, materials, or human capabilities. The last step before any definite visible progress has been made is to further explore the possibilities. Here, you consider additional development of brainstorming ideas with criteria and constraints and explore alternative ideas based on supplementary knowledge and technologies.
Now that you have done extensive research and narrowed down your ideas, it is time to select an approach.
During this step, you review brainstormed information and answer any lingering questions that you may have. You narrow ideas down through a voting process or by use of a decision matrix. In the end, you decide on a final idea. Next, you develop a design proposal by exploring the idea in greater detail with annotated sketches, making critical decisions such as material types and manufacturing methods and generating computer models and detailed sketches to further refine the idea. Now, after creating hypothetical models, you create a physical model, known as a prototype. This prototype is useful for communicating ideas, studying aspects such as shape, form, fit, or texture, and testing the solution. After building a prototype, use the model to test and evaluate the design in a controlled working environment. Use the performance data to analyze and check results against the established criteria and determine shortcomings and establish any need for redesign. If needed, modify or rebuild the prototype until the accuracy and repeatability of the prototype’s performance are consistent. Repeat this step as many times a needed until you are ready for the final steps.
Now that the solution has been discovered, refined, and finalized, it is time to determine how to produce the product. There are many factors that govern the method with which you fabricate your product, including factory location, automation process, and the amount of product being built. Lastly, communicate the process and the result through media such as PowerPoint, posters, or technical reports, and then market and distribute the product.