Holistic mindset for mechanical design engineer

How to develop a holistic mindset as a design engineer who is not only a specialist

Design engineers are not only specialists but also require to be generalists to consider many different factors to develop a quality design especially in a broad domain.

Creativity is a key requirement for innovative solutions in design engineering and thinking holistically aides’ creative exploration and combination of ideas to create novel designs.

Being specialized or narrowed down to one domain limits the thought process.

Here is a difference between the two approaches in thinking.

Narrow: Need to specialize in one domain and not worry about anything else
Holistic: Along with a specialization learn enough in allied domains so I can adapt

Narrow: Develop domain related specialists’ mindset
Holistic: Develops general - specialist mindset with the overall picture perspective.

One of the key aspects of holistic thinking is thinking mechanical entities as systems called as Systems thinking.

Systems thinking encourages engineers to view a mechanical system as a whole, considering all components and their relationships. This includes considering how individual parts interact and influence each other within the larger context of the system.

Systems thinking promotes an interdisciplinary approach, ensuring that the design considers all relevant aspects and constraints.

Instead of optimizing individual components in isolation, systems thinking aims to optimize the performance of the entire system. This requires a comprehensive understanding of how different components contribute to overall system objectives and functionality.

The primary focus in Systems thinking Is on Synthesis and not limited to Analysis alone.

Difference between Synthesis and Analysis:

Analysis and synthesis are two fundamental processes in problem-solving, research, and creative thinking.

In college , when we learn about the basics we are taught how to analyse using mathematical models and concepts.

Analysis involves breaking down a complex system into its constituent parts for a detailed examination, while synthesis involves combining different elements to create something new and integrated

In mechanical engineering, the analysis of a machine may involve studying its individual components, such as gears, motors, and bearings, to understand their functions and interactions.

synthesis could involve combining individual components like gears, motors, and sensors to create a new automated system.

Synthesis is a big part of systems thinking and hence the design engineers who are tasked with developing products should weigh analysis and synthesis (systems) when developing designs.

Thinking skills :

Design engineers are creators and hence should develop higher order thinking skills which include ability to evaluate, analyse and create designs independently.

Creative thinking which leads to exploration of alternatives or opportunities and also the ability to keep two conflicting ideas in mind and be open to evaluation is a critical skill.

The question of “how to be more creative” is a very commonly asked one which doesn’t have a one size fits all answer. Everybody is different with a different background and upbringing . That affects the creative outputs of everyone.

Generally speaking, there are commonly agreed ways to exercise the muscle of creativity.

  1. Deliberate thinking and practicing solving challenging problems. Making the mind think. Working on projects and making things.
  2. Using tools like TRIZ which provide a systematic way of creative problem solving.
  3. Introspecting the psychology of flow for oneself. How does one trigger a state of heightened thinking when ideas flow.

T shaped professional design engineer :

The concept of a "T-shaped engineer" refers to a professional who has both a broad range of skills and knowledge in various fields, as well as a deep expertise in one specific area.

The horizontal bar of the T represents the broad skills and knowledge, while the vertical bar represents the deep expertise.

While the I shaped engineer has deep expertise in only one area the T shaped engineer has basic knowledge on other allied areas. This allows for more opportunities to open up for innovation .

In the context of a design engineer. A T shaped engineer may have deep expertise in working with CAD and have basic knowledge of simulation, Testing, product development, Electronics and programming. That may allow the engineer to develop solutions incorporating these skillsets .
Maybe a simple ye t creative robot or electromechanical device.

Creativity on its own cannot achieve outcomes for a design engineer. He/she requires to be rigorous in analysis as they are creative.

Thinking Hats :

The concept of Thinking hats is powerful to separate these thought processes.

Spatial problem solving : 

Another one of the key enablers of Creative mechanical design skills is also a high Spatial reasoning ability.

How to improve Spatial ability?
1. Take up design challenges which forces the mind to think in a spatial way.

2. Develop CAD models from images through imagination

3. Build mechanical systems to develop an ability to manage packaging space

4. Try to design mechanisms to perform certain motions and functions. Use standard components like Gears, pulleys, links, levers etc.

5. Take existing structures of mechanical systems and try to re-design it in creative ways

Categories: Skills and knowledge