The Process of Engineering Design

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by Dewang

To a large extent we take the technology around us for granted, stopping to notice its value only once it has ceased to function. What we notice even less is the engineering design process, where dedicated engineers, entrepreneurs and inventors work for years to bring a product to market. We take a look at what is involved from concept to commercialization and how engineering designers avoid the ominous ‘valley of death’.

It has been suggested that there is a rhizome effect in place when a learning curve spontaneously takes the same trajectory in unconnected parts of the world. This effect has been witnessed in the animal kingdom as well as in technological development in the human species. The trend can be spotted when two or more people who are totally unconnected come up with the same concept at the same time.

This famously happened with the invention of the telephone, which depending on how you view the situation was either thought up by Alexander Bell or Antonio Meucci amongst many others. It seems that the leap in learning happened across the board and many people had a breakthrough moment at the same time. The reason Alexander Bell came out top was because his patent application showed skilled engineering design.

The patenting process is where many new ideas fail. Putting in a patent application requires a complete technical breakdown of the product or idea in a way that describes every aspect of the concept. The engineering design process starts by identifying the need for a product, followed by research about its application and potential benefits. After this the concept is drawn up so it can be realized before being presented to a commercial sector where it can thereby be manufactured and implemented.

This process can take many years, and the competence of the engineering design can be a deciding factor in the progression from concept to manufacture. Many technologies are developed to a point where patents have been filed and prototypes made to demonstrate the potential of the invention or concept. Unfortunately, the leap from a prototype platform to commercial product often requires major modifications to be put into practice.

This is what is known as the ‘valley of death’, an area where designs have been unable to be modified to become commercially viable. There are literally thousands of patents that are filed globally every year. Some of these have the potential to change the way we live and the way industry functions, but many never have the chance to become used as they cannot bridge the gap between idea and implementation.

Dom Donaldson is an engineering expert.
Find out more about Engineering Design and how it is implemented commercially at URS Corp.

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