With the economic culture of the 21st century revolving around sustainable designs, the old mantra of “when in doubt, make it stout” is becoming obsolete. Designs are now being subjected to a rigorous scrutiny by organizations and end users for performance, economic viability and in some cases, environmental impact.
Important design considerations of this era include key practical aspects such as:
Minimal Material user – Is it possible to change the steel gauge without impacting functionality? (Eg: wall of a container tank)
Improved Material Choices – With the rapid development of metallurgical processes and a huge selection of materials, is it possible to obtain a material that would make this part easier to produce, recycle, and transport, at a cheaper cost? (Eg: using recyclable HDPE instead of ABS)?
Design for ease of assembly/disassembly – Can the product be taken apart for partial replacement, or repair? (Eg: using tabs to connect components instead of a glue like Epoxy)?
Product Re-use or Recycling at the end of its life – Can the product be designed as modules for easy upgrade, or recycling? (Eg: blades of a lawnmower)
Minimal Energy impact – Can the design be supplied with an alternative source of power? Or can the power consumption be reduced? (Eg: Using manpower to provide electricity, or designing the base of a treadmill for smaller actuators)
Avoid Hazardous waste production – Is it possible to avoid environmentally dangerous waste from being the by-product of manufacturing?
But why are these choices gaining importance rapidly? The reason is that the demand for natural resources is rapidly growing more than what is available. This drives up costs, and also leads to stricter regulations in production.
Fortunately, making these adjustments to produce an optimized design can be done much easier than the previous century.
Some basic principles have to be satisfied through the product development cycle. It is fairly clear that designing a product is not a linear process, and there are many decisions and adjustments made as a design progresses from a hand sketch to the production floor. The biggest danger is making decisions without knowing if they are right.
So how do engineers get answers to their design decisions? The top answers are:
We looked at something that worked in the past. It is similar to what we are doing and so we scaled the design up/down. – This is a tried and tested way of doing things. Engineers rely heavily on past designs that have traveled over generations. However, it is not telling you how you can do it better; it only tells you how to continue to achieve what has already been achieved.
We use spreadsheets, mathematical equations, or hand calculations. Most engineers tend to feel comfortable with this approach and rely on them without skepticism. What do hand calculations really offer? Are the approximations made in the hand calculations really valid for your design? How much insight is obtained from a hand calculation? The majority of hand calculations usually give one data point, or maybe two, but no real insights.
We test prototypes. Is this where insight comes from? Do we gather all that we need to know from testing a prototype? Does the prototype give any indications of all possible choices in making a design better?
Historically, when engineers are evaluating their designs this late in the process companies have already invested time and money that cannot be recouped. Companies that use our simulation technology gain the vital information they need to make better design decisions.