Ever wonder how engineers come up with solutions to complex problems? If you’ve ever worked with engineers before, you’d know that they always have the solutions to the problems you present. This article talks about one of the many tools that engineers use to drive innovation— the engineering design process. 

What Is Engineering Design Process? 

The engineering design process is a step-by-step guide that engineers follow in coming up with a solution to a problem in the form of a product or a process. The steps may vary based on the purpose or project requirement, but it always allows for discoveries and information from failures and improvements to be made. 

Any individual trying to solve a problem can make use of this process. It is designed to rely on skills that anyone can have and learn. We all encounter problems in our daily lives, the only difference is that engineers solve problems that are bigger in scale and complexity. Their product and solution designs actually impact a lot of people’s daily lives.  

What Exactly Is Engineering Design? 

  • Engineering Design is a Process in Itself. Engineering design involves using tools and a certain thought process that engineers use in almost any situation. Each step aims to reveal more and more information about the problem and all the possible ways to solve it.
     
  • Engineering Design is an Iterative Process. In engineering, repetition is key. The whole engineering design process is expected to be repeated until an engineer arrives at the best possible solution. Engineering design can be described as the process of defining, planning, modeling, and testing all possible scenarios and outcomes. These steps can also be repeatedly taken in a different order to find the best possible solution.
     
  • Engineering Design is Problem-Solving. The ultimate purpose of engineering design is to solve a problem. Its purpose should always be specific and known. Using experimentation, engineers aim to better understand the problem presented to them and the possible solutions.  
  • Engineering Design is Finding the Best Solution. The engineering design process aims to find the best solution among many possibilities that provide the most desired results. Solutions can have a wide range of pros and cons and impact the physical limits of available time, cost, tools, and resources. Through a vital part of the process – evaluation – engineers can find the best answer to a call. 

The Engineering Design Process 

Primarily, the engineering design process is a flexible and functional way to observe and solve many different kinds of problems. Engineers use applied science, mathematics, and engineering sciences in this process to reach a higher level of optimization and meet the requirements for solving a specific problem. 

Here are the 10 steps you would typically go through in an Engineering Design Process. 

  1. Define the Problem or Need

The Engineering design process starts by asking these questions:  

  • What is the problem or need? 
  • Who is it for?  
  • Why is it necessary to solve?  
  • What outcome do we want to achieve? 
  • What are the requirements and limitations? 

Engineers ask these critical questions about what they want to create and this rings true for anything: a building, a rollercoaster, a vehicle, or a smartphone.

  1. Do Background Research and Explore Possibilities

They say experience is the best teacher, so learning from other people’s experiences is a must. Check and find out about existing solutions to the similar problems you mean to solve. Research can also help you avoid mistakes already made in the past. For engineers, two major areas need a thorough background check:  

  • Users and/or customers 
  • Existing solutions 

By exploring all possible scenarios, you might find solutions that never even entered your mind before. Consider alternative and creative solutions, and compare potential results to find the best way to solve the problem. This step all boils down to researching what products or solutions are already out there and what technologies might comply with your needs or requirements.  

  1. Brainstorm Solutions

Engineers never settle for the first-ever idea that pops into mind. Instead, they try to generate as many solutions as possible before choosing one that they deem best. It is easy to overlook a better solution when you focus on just one before looking at the alternatives. 

Idea generation, otherwise known as ideation, is the creative process of developing ideas. Engineers usually work in teams, and it is crucial that ideas are looked at because even the craziest ones rejected right away might have some aspects that can make other solutions way better.  

  1. Specify Requirements, Criteria, and Constraints

List down your requirements and success criteria. Then, identify any factors that may constrain your work by analyzing each key feature of a similar and already-existing product.  

Engineering design requirements are highly specific and will apply to your particular problem and the product, system, or process that you are creating. Here are some examples: 

  • Cost Target 
  • Capacity 
  • Physical Characteristics 
  • Performance Characteristics 
  • Inputs and Outputs
  • Manufacturing Considerations
  • Environmental Requirements 
  • Regulatory and Licensing Considerations 
  • Service Requirements 
  • User Requirements  
  • Functionality
  • Aesthetics 
  1. Select the Most Promising Solution

After doing due diligence, it’s time to choose the path that has the most desirable outcome. Out of all the possible solutions you have gathered, which one meets most, if not all, of your requirements? Pick it out and set all others aside.  

On top of meeting the bare minimum, you probably have some features that you deem desirable, though not quite as important as your requirements. You can park these “nice-to-have” features first to help you trim down the long list of solutions you have.  

You may also use tools to help you decide on a single design, such as the Universal Design Criteria, The Decision Matrix, Pros and Cons List, and the Design Solution Checklist 

  1. Plan and Develop the Solution

Planning and development involve refining and improving a solution over and over again. This step is repeated even after the solution is already in use. The development stage aims to make sure your solution is functional to reduce risks and optimize success.  

It is possible to do development work in the early stages of the design process to assess different possible outcomes. This applies to instances when it is hard to compare the cost of early design concepts without developing alternative concepts.  

Risk reduction is also necessary to save precious time and resources. So, you might want to determine first whether a potential solution will not work in the early stages of the design process before finalizing it for development. On the contrary, consider optimization along the way, you must find the best compromise between your requirements and development without overspending time and resources.  

  1. Build a Model or Prototype

A model or prototype is a working version of a solution. Often made with different materials than the intended final version, prototypes are created to test how your solution will work and get useful feedback. Technically, these are working mockups of your final solution. 

Building a prototype also helps an engineer develop the solution’s structure, function, and appearance. These are usually made of cheaper and readily available materials. However, there are also construction kits and prototyping boards available for purchase. 

  1. Test and Assess

Does it work? Does it solve the problem? Can it be improved? These are some questions engineers ask at this particular stage of the engineering design process. Testing and assessment involve multiple loops around your solution: 

Test –> find problem –> make changes –> test –> find new problems –> make changes –> so on 

It also involves getting feedback from users and redesigning where needed. This process is repeated until the final design is decided.  

  1. Create The Solution

After all the testing and refinement are done, it’s time to create the finished solution. This may come in the form of a polished prototype or proof of concepts, which you can use in client demonstration meetings.  

  1. Communicate Results

Thoroughly document the solution so that it can be manufactured and supported by your leadership team and decision-makers in the organization. This can either be a report, presentation, display board, or a combination of those. 

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