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Mechanical engineering design involves all the disciplines of mechanical engineering. Real problems resist compartmentalization. A simple journal bearing involves fluid flow, heat transfer, friction, energy transport, material selection, thermomechanical treatments, statistical descriptions, and so on. A building is environmentally controlled.
The heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning considerations are sufficiently specialized that some speak of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning design as if it is separate and distinct from mechanical engineering design. Similarly, internal-combustion engine design, turbomachinery design, and jet-engine design are sometimes considered discrete entities. Here, the leading string of words preceding the word design is merely a product descriptor. Similarly, there are phrases such as machine design, machine-element design, machine-component design, systems design, and fluid-power design.
All of these phrases are somewhat more focused examples of mechanical engineering design. They all draw on the same bodies of knowledge, are similarly organized, and require similar skills. What is the design process? How does it begin? Does the engineer simply sit down at a desk with a blank sheet of paper and jot down some ideas? What happens next? What factors influence or control the decisions that have to be made? Finally, how does the design process end? The complete design process, from start to finish, is often outlined as in Fig. 1–1. The process begins with an identification of a need and a decision to do something about it.
After many iterations, the process ends with the presentation of the plans for satisfying the need. Depending on the nature of the design task, several design phases may be repeated throughout the life of the product, from inception to termination. In the next several subsections, we shall examine these steps in the design process in detail. Identification of need generally starts the design process. Recognition of the need and phrasing the need often constitute a highly creative act, because the need may be only a vague discontent, a feeling of uneasiness, or a sensing that something is not right.
The need is often not evident at all; recognition is usually triggered by a particular adverse circumstance or a set of random circumstances that arises almost simultaneously. For example, the need to do something about a food-packaging machine may be indicated by the noise level, by a variation in package weight, and by slight but perceptible variations in the quality of the packaging or wrap. There is a distinct difference between the statement of the need and the definition of the problem. The definition of problem is more specific and must include all the specifications for the object that is to be designed.
The specifications are the input and output quantities, the characteristics and dimensions of the space the object must occupy, and all the limitations on these quantities. We can regard the object to be designed as something in a black box. In this case we must specify the inputs and outputs of the box, together with their characteristics and limitations.
The specifications define the cost, the number to be manufactured, the expected life, the range, the operating temperature, and the reliability. Specified characteristics can include the speeds, feeds, temperature limitations, maximum range, expected variations in the variables, dimensional and weight limitations, etc