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Considering Life Cycle During Design: A Longitudinal Study Of Engineering Undergraduates

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Engineering Design: Implementation and Evaluation

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.360.1 - 14.360.12



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Paper Authors

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Ken Yasuhara University of Washington

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Andrew Morozov University of Washington

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Deborah Kilgore University of Washington

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Cynthia Atman University of Washington

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Christine Loucks-Jaret University of Washington

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Considering life cycle during design: A longitudinal study of engineering undergraduates Key words: context, design, sustainability, life cycle, gender


In this age of global warming and diminishing fossil fuel stores, society is becoming increasingly aware that seemingly small decisions can have surprisingly far-reaching implications on the environment and future generations. Accordingly, today’s engineers must approach design problems with a holistic, broad view of the impacts, environmental and otherwise, of their solutions.

The notion of life cycle provides a structured, comprehensive approach for assessing the impact of an engineering solution, whether it takes the form of a product, a service, or a process.1 This paper presents initial findings from a longitudinal study of undergraduate engineers and the extent to which they consider life cycle in solving open-ended engineering design problems. An engineering solution’s life cycle includes all of the inter-related stages of its existence, from design to implementation to maintenance and, ultimately, disposal. Life cycle is commonly used to assess environmental impact in each of these stages. However, this full “cradle-to-grave” view of an engineering solution’s life span facilitates comprehensive evaluation along other equally important dimensions, such as cost, resource requirements, manufacturability, serviceability and even social impact. Additionally, considering a solution’s complete life cycle can illuminate its relationships with other processes and systems, making life cycle a crucial tool for considering the contest of an engineering effort. For instance, the choice of a product’s packaging material might be informed by the target market’s disposal regulations, recycling infrastructure, and people’s disposal/recycling habits. This example illustrates how putting engineering design in broad temporal context (across the life cycle stages) naturally leads to broader consideration of other elements of context, e.g., governmental, economic, and cultural, respectively, in this case.

Related work

For the reasons discussed above, many engineers have long valued life cycle as an important tool in the design process. Life cycle is discussed in the literature of numerous engineering disciplines (beyond the obvious environmental engineering), including electrical, civil, mechanical, systems, aeronautical, and software engineering. While the detailed structure or stages of the life cycle model are often tailored to specific disciplines or even problem domains, the basic notion is the same: a structured way of placing engineering design in broad temporal context.

Similarly, engineering educators are recognizing the utility of life cycle as a tool for managing the complexity of considering many kinds of context during design. Growing awareness of global environmental problems has prompted calls for all engineering students to learn about life cycle and environmental impact.2 The Center for Sustainable Engineering’s Allen et al. identified life cycle as an essential analytical tool for every engineer.3 Although many courses that address life cycle focus on cost or, more recently, environmental impact,4 the life cycle

Yasuhara, K., & Morozov, A., & Kilgore, D., & Atman, C., & Loucks-Jaret, C. (2009, June), Considering Life Cycle During Design: A Longitudinal Study Of Engineering Undergraduates Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5508

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