Conceptual Design in Mechanical Engineering

This thesis will mainly deal with processes, media and tools for conceptual design in mechanical engineering. In order to go into the author’s ideas on this subject, it is essential for the reader to share a common understanding or at least a common definition about the term “conceptual design” with the author. So what is conceptual design? Viewing existent definitions, it shows that it is even hard to say what conceptual design is in general. It may either be a phase of the design process, the procedure of developing a certain kind of product definition or a certain kind of product definition itself. To gain a first insight to “conceptual design”, one might split this term into its components, which are concept and design.

In this context, design seems to be the more comprehensive and basic term, so we consider its definition at first. According to MILLER (1996), “design is the thought process comprising the creation of an entity.” This definition points out several important characteristics of design – still, we will not adopt every one of them as the basis of our further consideration. In this definition, “process” probably is the most essential term, because it shows what Miller considers design to be in general: it is a series of actions, changes or functions bringing about a result. We will not determine whether design is only a process of thought or also includes essential processes of act, which not just supplement or support processes of thought. In the following considerations, all (mental and actual) sub-processes within a design process will be taken as being a part of design. Furthermore, this definition names what happens when a process of design takes place: a – not further specified – entity is being created, which means it is brought into existence and therefore has not existed before. Miller indicates an entity as the “thing” being created and thereby leaves open what category of “thing” emerges from a design process.

In case of a conceptual design process, exactly this “thing” is specified by the term concept. Following the dictionary, a concept can be an idea, a plan, or a scheme (MERRIAM-WEBSTER 2003). In mechanical engineering, such a concept is not just a general idea such as “Let’s build a car, how about that?”. PAHL & BEITZ (1996) specify a concept as a principle solution for a product based on working principles and working structures. It may have been generated out of functional considerations that have been undertaken beforehand and may afterwards result into a constructional definition. The working structure and the construction structure of a clutch. The working structure exemplifies the conceptual stage of the design. But methodology does not only describe the elements and the structure of a concept; it also points out at what time a concept emerges. Prescriptive schemes for design procedure, such as those suggested by industrial standards and norms , usually state that creating a concept should be one of the early steps within design procedure. In conjunction with the definition from dictionary, a concept in mechanical engineering may be seen as an idea for the later product and also as a plan for further complementation of the ongoing design process.

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