This contribution discusses aspects and benefits from involving physical representations when teaching engineering design and Computer Aided Engineering at Linköping University, Sweden.

The paper presents a syllabus for a comprehensive introductory CAD course. The course is populated by some 300 students on the Mechanical Engineering Master’s and Bachelor’s programs, as well as the Design and Product Development Master’s program. Assessment is made via a project where the students are assigned to model and optimize a small catapult. The catapult is then produced, using cheap materials, by the hands of the students who modeled it. Finally, the catapult is validated by entering a contest, where it is judged in respect of accuracy, weight, and cost. The catapult assignment is constructed in such a way that the students are forced to seek individual ways of applying their newly acquired knowledge of the CAD tool. Some 100 catapults are produced but the material cost for each catapult is only about €4.

The low-cost nature of the catapults originates from research conducted at the Division of Machine Design at Linköping University, where the concept of Low-Cost-Demonstrators for enhancement of the conceptual design phase has been developed over the past decade. The results from this research point towards several benefits from using physical representations alongside the common digital tools during the early stages of the product development process. Furthermore, evaluation of parameters such as the students’ performance and their own opinions of the course show notable enhancement compared to previous courses.

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