Most undergraduate mechanical engineering curricula contain one or more courses that provide an introduction to the product design and development process. These courses include some topics that, without the proper motivation, may be perceived by students as being of low relevance. In addition, they also cover topics that may seem to be somewhat abstract and difficult to apply unless they are preceded by examples that clearly illustrate their practical value.

The tasks of identifying customer needs and setting target specifications are typical examples of the first scenario described above. In general, engineering students have the notion that the activities of the detailed design phase are the ones that really matter and that those activities are the ones that determine the ultimate success of a product. They are so concerned with designing the physical components of the product correctly that they spend little time and effort in other steps that are necessary to make sure that they are designing the right product.

The tasks of concept generation and defining the architecture of a product are good examples of the second scenario mentioned in the first paragraph. Most students quickly proceed to pick a concept that they think is viable without carefully exploring the entire solution space. In addition, when considering relatively complex products, many students don’t spend enough time considering aspects such as defining the interfaces between different components. As a result, student teams end up with a collection of components that are individually well-designed but integrate poorly, and the end product suffers accordingly.

Short, introductory examples demonstrating the importance of tasks like the ones mentioned above were created in order to get the attention of students and spark their interest in learning about such topics. These presentations were also created with the intent that they would motivate students to apply what they had learned when designing their own product or system.

Through the examples, which corresponded to real-world product development efforts, students were exposed to not just well-designed and well-made products or systems that turned out to be successful, but also to products or systems that failed in the marketplace or experienced significant problems because the designers failed to adequately perform a task such as identifying customer requirements. The latter clearly showcased the importance of such tasks and conveyed the fact that good technical design work can be rendered moot by failing to put the required effort into the early stages of the development of a product or system.

This paper presents the general criteria used and the approach followed to select and develop short introductory examples for the topics of identifying customer needs, setting target specifications, concept generation, and systems architecture. It briefly describes the examples selected and presents the results of a pilot assessment that was conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of one of those examples.

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