Digital Prototyping by Multidisciplinary Design Teams
This paper reports on research conducted in order to learn about and improve the performance of multidisciplinary design teams using digital tools for design development and collaboration. A computer-aided product realization course and associated product design lab serve as a testbed for conducting this research. In this design course students are initially familiarized with a common set of digital tools, and then formed into teams. The digital prototyping tools include a cloud-based CAD platform, iterative 3D printing, and 3D scanning and scan data processing software. The CAD platform includes cutting edge freeform modeling capabilities. The multidisciplinary teams include students, mostly seniors, from systems engineering, mechanical engineering, bioengineering and industrial design. The design projects consist of biomedical products and devices, and each project includes a sponsor from the healthcare industry. The instructors include faculty from systems engineering, industrial design, and bioengineering.
Using this testbed, in the fall of 2015 research data was collected on reflective practice, design thinking, and how students engage in and use digital tools for design and collaboration. The following research questions were addressed: (1) what activities do multidisciplinary student teams pursue in the early stages of the design process? (2) what benefits and challenges with regard to multidisciplinary design collaboration do students frequently note? (3) how do students view the effectiveness of the cloud-based CAD platform on team collaboration and design concept development? and (4) what are the students’ perceptions of using 3D printing for design concept development? A combination of methods, including audio recordings, reflection journals and surveys were employed to address the research questions.
The results show that the course participants had a very positive view of the multidisciplinary composition of the design teams. Another result of this work is that the use of the digital prototyping tools, in particular the use of the cloud-based CAD tool and 3D printing was helpful in promoting collaboration as well as in improving the likelihood of successful design outcomes. Another key finding from reviewing design literature was the role and importance of reflection in design education and practice. The results of this study have implications for (1) promoting multidisciplinary team and communication skills among engineering and design students, (2) contributing to effective design teaching, and exploiting the capabilities of emerging 3D CAD tools in engineering design education.
The paper includes a list of the 25 most influential publications relevant to the ongoing improvement of design courses that employ digital tools. A subset of these publications are currently being used as the reading list for the fall 2016 iteration of the course. Research results also include recommendations for making course improvements. These recommendations are currently being implemented, and will be discussed in the paper.
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