What is the engineering design process?

The engineering design process is a set of steps that engineers follow to come up with a solution to a particular problem. The solution to the problem involves the designing of a product that can accomplish a certain task and can qualify certain criteria. The process of designing is completely different from that of the scientific method, that you may be familiar with. If the project utilizes the observations, and the experiments then the engineering design process must be followed. The diagram shows the steps of the engineering design process, and the table below describes each step in more detail:

Engineering design process explained step by step with the help of a flowchart
Flow chart for the design process

What are the steps of the engineering design process?

It is important to understand that there are various framings or articulations of the engineering design process. Different terminology employed may have varying degrees of overlap, which affects what steps get stated explicitly or deemed “high level” versus subordinate in any given model. This, of course, applies as much to any particular example steps or sequence given here.

Define the problem

The engineering design process starts when you ask the following questions about problems that you observe:

  • What is the problem or need?
  • Who has the problem or need?
  • Why is it important to solve?

Do background research

Doing the background research can help in determining the already existing solution to similar problems, which leads to avoiding the mistakes that are committed in the past. the research can be done in two major areas:

  • Users or customers
  • Existing solution

The source of information should be relevant. Reverse engineering can be an effective technique if other solutions are available on the market. There are various sources of information that include the internet, local libraries, available government documents, personal organizations, trade journals, vendor catalogs, and individual experts available.

Specify design requirements

The design requirements state the importance of the characteristics of the solution that must be needed in order to succeed. The requirement of the design controls the design of the product and the process that is utilized in the development of the product across the engineering design process. Analyzing the concrete example of an already existing product and noting down its key features is the best way to identify the design requirements for your solution. Some design requirements include hardware and software parameters, maintainability, availability, and testability.

Brainstorm solutions

For solving the designing problems there are various possibilities. If only one of the possibilities is focused, then you are overlooking a better solution to the problem that you are having. The best designers always generate more than one solution for a particular problem. The purpose of brainstorming a solution is to determine whether the engineer’s project can proceed into the design phase or not. This is based on two criteria:

  • The project needs to be based on an achievable idea
  • It needs to be within cost constraints

It is important to have engineers with experience and good judgment ability in this portion of the feasibility study.

Choose the best solution

Some of the solutions meet more requirements in comparison to the others, you have to look for a solution that meets more requirements for your solution. The solutions that do not meet the requirements of the required solution are rejected.

Develop the solution

This process includes the development of the solution or the modification of the already existing solution, this continues throughout the designing process even after a product is shipped.

Build a prototype

The prototype of the solution is basically the operating version of the solution of the problem. It is made with materials that are different from the ones with which the actual product is made. creation of the prototype is a key step in the creation of the final solution, that allows the designer to check how the solution will work.

Test and redesign

The designing of a solution involves multiple steps of recreation and redesigning of the final solution that will actually work. The solution will likely be tested to identify new problems, make corrections to those problems, and test the new solution before proceeding to a final design. It is a part of the project planning that involves the pros and cons of implementing the idea. In a process, if a problem is identified then at the instant the solution must be implemented to that problem. This step is often termed Ideation or “concept generation”. The following are widely used techniques:

Trigger word – A word or phrase associated with the issue at hand is stated, and subsequent words and phrases are evoked.

Morphological analysis – Independent design characteristics are listed in a chart, and different engineering solutions are proposed for each solution. Normally, a preliminary sketch and a short report accompany the morphological chart.

Synectics – The engineer imagines himself or herself as the item and asks, “What would I do if I were the system?” This unconventional method of thinking may find a solution to the problem at hand. The vital aspects of the conceptualization step are synthesis. Synthesis is the process of taking the element of the concept and properly arranging them. Synthesis creative process is present in every design.

Communicate results

In order to complete the project, the results are communicated to the others in the form of a final report or a display board. This is followed by all the professional engineers in order to get their solutions manufactured and supported.

Types of engineering design

Preliminary design

The preliminary design also known as the high-level design or FEED is responsible to bridge the gap between the design conception and the detailed design of the solution. This is often used in the fields where the level of the conceptualization of the idea is not sufficient for a full evaluation. So in this task, the configuration of the overall system is defined, and schematic diagrams & layouts of the project may provide early project configuration.

Detailed design

Following FEED is the detailed design ( detailed engineering) phase, which may consist of procurement of materials as well. The further elaboration of each aspect of the project or product by complete description through solid modeling, drawings as well as specifications is done by these designs. Computer-aided design (CAD) programs have made the detailed design phase more efficient.

Common Mistakes

Following are the common mistakes performed by students:

  • Sometimes, students get confused about different engineering processes and their sequences.
  • Sometimes, students forget the concept of trigger word, morphological analysis, and synectics.
  • Sometimes, students get confused between brainstorming and specify design requirements.
  • Sometimes, students forget the concept of preliminary and detailed design.

Context and Applications

This topic is significant in the professional exams for both graduate and postgraduate courses, especially for

Bachelor of Technology in Mechanical Engineering

Master of Technology in Mechanical Engineering

  • Engineering analysis
  • Difference between model and prototype
  • Systems Engineering Process
  • Design Engineer

Practice Problems

Q1. What is the first step in the engineering design process?

  1. gathering information about an existing product
  2. coming up with ideas for a new product
  3. recognizing the need for a solution to a problem
  4. all of the above

Correct Option: (c)

Explanation: The first step in the engineering design process is identifying the problem or recognizing the need for a solution to a problem. In this process, the user needs to define any problem and identify the need and constraints.

Q2. During which step of the design process do you test the solution or product?

  1. Communicate results
  2. design a solution or product
  3. build a prototype
  4. test or redesign

Correct Option: (d)

Explanation: In the test or redesign process, the prototype or product is tested by using various iteration processes to check the product's functionality.

Q3. Which of these, states the goal of engineering design analysis?

  1. To understand an engineering design problem
  2. To provide a solution for a given problem
  3. All of the above
  4. None of the above

Correct Option: (c)

Explanation: The basic goal of engineering design analysis is to understand the problem and provide solutions for the problem by using various processes.

Q4. Design criteria define:

  1. what the product should be able to do
  2. all of these
  3. how to do market research
  4. constraints

Correct Option: (a)

Explanation: The design criteria are described as a term representing the product's functional ability. It involves the basic goals that any type of project must fulfill for its success. It should be short, flexible, durable, less costly, and concerned.

Q5. A three-dimensional representation of product before manufacturing is

  1. a drawing with an x and y axes
  2. a finished product
  3. a model, often a prototype
  4. a drawing produced on the computer

Correct Option: (c)

Explanation: A prototype is an operating version of a product in a three-dimensional representation. Prototype is the initial sample for testing any type of process or any concept.

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