Engineering Design in Industry: Teaching Students and Faculty to Apply Engineering Science in Design

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In a typical engineering curriculum students and faculty rarely have the opportunity to take a real problem, extract its essence, apply an analysis, and then make design decisions based on this analysis. This extractive link between fundamentals and design is particularly critical to a smooth transition from engineering study at the university to engineering practice in industry. Historically, universities have taken the responsibility for rigorous theoretical and technical training in subjects that include the basic sciences and fundamentals of engineering, while industry has been responsible for making engineering graduates contributors to specific tasks important to the company and its core competency. In this division of training, however, no one teaches students how to apply fundamental engineering principles to practical problems. To make matters worse, faculty often ignore engineering relevance of basic theory and the students then reject these fundamentals; in both cases engineering performance suffers. One solution to this missing bridge is being developed in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) in the form ofthe "Engineering Design in Industry" program.


A principal deficiency identified in studies of engineering education in the U.S. has been the lack of appropriate design training in the engineering curriculum.1-3 Furthermore, the design education literature (e.g., reference 4 and more generally references 5-15) shows that there is a need for enhancing design in the engineering curriculum and that there is no formal definition of design or any agreement on how it is to be taught. (McMasters and Ford16 state that "there are nearly as many ways to teach design as there are those teaching it.").

Design training, though somewhat ill-defined, is crucial to enable graduating engineers to contribute in today's competitive manufacturing environment. Along with growing worldwide competition, today's engineer must also be aware of constraints imposed by potential environmental impacts, governmental regulations, and cost. Furthermore, accelerating technology forces today's engineer to be analytically flexible in order to utilize techniques necessary to be globally competitive. Finally, industry representatives stress that today's engineer must have excellent communication skills.17-18 Faced with these demands, our graduating seniors follow a path that is likely common to students completing any traditional mechanical engineering curriculum. First, while students, they receive knowledge from the faculty in the form of analysis, theories, and problem sets. The graduate then ventures out alone into the great unknown of industry, armed only with this technical knowledge. The result is that the graduates often reject their science and engineering basics in response to their uncertainty of the industry environment. We have queried our graduates after they have spent some time in industry, and we find that the feature of their UCI education that they underutilize (and even discard) is the fundamental training. The faculty contribute to this rejection of fundamentals by avoiding exercises that demonstrate how to apply what they teach to real problems. To reverse this phenomenon, we have created the Engineering Design in Industry (EDI) program to help students and faculty learn together how to apply fundamental engineering to industrial problems.

To "do" engineering means solving a problem that has practical consequence. Problems that have practical consequence are multifaceted and rarely resemble the problems in engineering course work. Consequently, problems with consequence cannot, in general, be delivered credibly by a faculty member; the problem must come from industry, and it must have a customer. That is, the industry must be committed to the problem; it must matter to them and they must want and expect it to be solved. …