The engineering design process, also known as the engineering method, is a common series of steps that engineers use in creating functional products and processes. The process is highly iterative - parts of the process often need to be repeated many times before another can be entered - though the part(s) that get iterated and the number of such cycles in any given project may vary.
It is a decision making process (often iterative) in which the basic sciences, mathematics, and engineering sciences are applied to convert resources optimally to meet a stated objective. Among the fundamental elements of the design process are the establishment of objectives and criteria, synthesis, analysis, construction, testing and evaluation.
It's important to understand that there are various framings/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/sequences given here.
One example framing of the engineering design process delineates the following stages: research, conceptualization, feasibility assessment, establishing design requirements, preliminary design, detailed design, production planning and tool design, and production. Others, noting that "different authors (in both research literature and in textbooks) define different phases of the design process with varying activities occurring within them," have suggested more simplified/generalized models - such as problem definition, conceptual design, preliminary design, detailed design, and design communication. Another summary of the process, from European engineering design literature, includes clarification of the task, conceptual design, embodiment design, detail design. (NOTE: In these examples, other key aspects - such as concept evaluation and prototyping - are subsets and/or extensions of one or more of the listed steps.)
Various stages of the design process (and even earlier) can involve a significant amount of time spent on locating information and research. Consideration should be given to the existing applicable literature, problems and successes associated with existing solutions, costs, and marketplace needs.
The source of information should be relevant. Reverse engineering can be an effective technique if other solutions are available on the market. Other sources of information include the Internet, local libraries, available government documents, personal organizations, trade journals, vendor catalogs and individual experts available.
Establishing design requirements and conducting requirement analysis, sometimes termed problem definition (or deemed a related activity), is one of the most important elements in the design process, and this task is often performed at the same time as a feasibility analysis. The design requirements control the design of the product or process being developed, throughout the engineering design process. These include basic things like the functions, attributes, and specifications - determined after assessing user needs. Some design requirements include hardware and software parameters, maintainability, availability, and testability.
In some cases, a feasibility study is carried out after which schedules, resource plans and estimates for the next phase are developed. The feasibility study is an evaluation and analysis of the potential of a proposed project to support the process of decision making. It outlines and analyses alternatives or methods of achieving the desired outcome. The feasibility study helps to narrow the scope of the project to identify the best scenario. A feasibility report is generated following which Post Feasibility Review is performed.
The purpose of a feasibility assessment is to determine whether the engineer's project can proceed into the design phase. This is based on two criteria: the project needs to be based on an achievable idea, and it needs to be within cost constraints. It is important to have engineers with experience and good judgment to be involved in this portion of the feasibility study.
A concept study (conceptualization, conceptual design) is often a phase of project planning that includes producing ideas and taking into account the pros and cons of implementing those ideas. This stage of a project is done to minimize the likelihood of error, manage costs, assess risks, and evaluate the potential success of the intended project. In any event, once an engineering issue or problem is defined, potential solutions must be identified. These solutions can be found by using ideation, the mental process by which ideas are generated. In fact, this step is often termed Ideation or "Concept Generation." The following are widely used techniques:
Various generated ideas must then undergo a concept evaluation step, which utilizes various tools to compare and contrast the relative strengths and weakness of possible alternatives.
The preliminary design, or high-level design includes (also called FEED or Basic design), often bridges a gap between design conception and detailed design, particularly in cases where the level of conceptualization achieved during ideation is not sufficient for full evaluation. So in this task, the overall system configuration is defined, and schematics, diagrams, and layouts of the project may provide early project configuration. (This notably varies a lot by field, industry, and product.) During detailed design and optimization, the parameters of the part being created will change, but the preliminary design focuses on creating the general framework to build the project on.
S. Blanchard and J. Fabrycky describe it as: “The ‘whats’ initiating conceptual design produce ‘hows’ from the conceptual design evaluation effort applied to feasible conceptual design concepts. Next, the ‘hows’ are taken into preliminary design through the means of allocated requirements. There they become ‘whats’ and drive preliminary design to address ‘hows’ at this lower level.”
Following FEED is the Detailed Design (Detailed Engineering) phase, which may consist of procurement of materials as well. This phase further elaborates each aspect of the project/product by complete description through solid modeling, drawings as well as specifications.
Computer-aided design (CAD) programs have made the detailed design phase more efficient. For example, a CAD program can provide optimization to reduce volume without hindering a part's quality. It can also calculate stress and displacement using the finite element method to determine stresses throughout the part.
The production planning and tool design consists of planning how to mass-produce the product and which tools should be used in the manufacturing process. Tasks to complete in this step include selecting materials, selection of the production processes, determination of the sequence of operations, and selection of tools such as jigs, fixtures, metal cutting and metal or plastics forming tools. This task also involves additional prototype testing iterations to ensure the mass-produced version meets qualification testing standards.
Engineering is formulating a problem that can be solved through design. Science is formulating a question that can be solved through investigation. The engineering design process bears some similarity to the scientific method. Both processes begin with existing knowledge, and gradually become more specific in the search for knowledge (in the case of "pure" or basic science) or a solution (in the case of "applied" science, such as engineering). The key difference between the engineering process and the scientific process is that the engineering process focuses on design, creativity and innovation while the scientific process emphasizes Discovery (observation).
Methods are being taught and developed in Universities including: