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Prominence of Conceptual Design with Computer-Aided Design Tools for Junior and Senior Product Designers

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Design Methodologies 2

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors

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Arash Nourimand University of Toronto


Alison Olechowski University of Toronto Orcid 16x16

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Alison Olechowski is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, and the Troost Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering (ILead). She completed her PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) studying product development decision-making during complex industry projects. Dr. Olechowski completed her BSc (Engineering) at Queen’s University and her MS at MIT, both in Mechanical Engineering. Dr. Olechowski and her research group Ready Lab study the processes and tools that teams of engineers use in industry as they design innovative new products.

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As the demand for more innovative products to help improve the lives of others increases, the product design industry continues to require more effective design methodologies. Conventional wisdom and research suggests that Computer-Aided Design (CAD) is a tool for detailed design, and is not appropriate for the conceptual phase of the design process. However, given new advances in cloud-computing and real-time synchronous collaboration, the ability to quickly digitally prototype unique concepts in CAD has never been easier. Given that new engineering graduates are part of the “digital native” generation, anecdotal evidence suggests these designers have a natural inclination and ability for this digital prototyping. Our study seeks to formally test whether a dichotomy exists between younger designers who are entering the workforce, and older designers who are veterans in product development, regarding the best-practices in CAD usage for conceptual design - “Conceptual CAD”. The paper begins with a critical review of the existing body of literature which advises the designer against Conceptual CAD. Next, we present the findings of a survey of professional product designers (spanning a variety of networks including LinkedIn and local product design think-tanks). We focus the analysis of the survey on differences in Conceptual CAD design practice by a variety of factors (e.g. years of experience with a given CAD tool, industry of practice, amount of time spent performing team vs. individual design actions, etc.), with the goal of identifying if correlation exists between designer age and inclination to use Conceptual CAD. Our study reveals important implications for engineering educators. Newly graduated engineers have advanced comfort and abilities with digital tools, and a corresponding proclivity to perform Conceptual CAD. These preferences benefit from the features of modern CAD tools, including fast collaboration and sharing. Though current introductory CAD courses are sufficient at teaching students how to use CAD, there is a recommendation for more cohesion and CAD usage in advanced design courses. Allowing more usage of CAD in more comprehensive design driven courses, can allow students to more accurately simulate the product development process in industry, and thus reduce the education to industry application gap.

Nourimand, A., & Olechowski, A. (2020, June), Prominence of Conceptual Design with Computer-Aided Design Tools for Junior and Senior Product Designers Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35101

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