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Thread: Mechanical Design Engineers - what makes you good at your job?

  1. #1

    Mechanical Design Engineers - what makes you good at your job?

    Hello everyone,,
    I am a senior Mechanical Engineering student and I will be graduating in May. I have had two internships - one as a Design Engineering Intern and one as a Manufacturing Engineering Intern. I enjoyed both internships very much although my Design skills have never been more than mediocre. I recently received an offer for a position that would require CAD and drafting using CREO, SolidWorks, and CATIA, FEA, and CFD using ANSYS with an Aerospace Company that I am extremely excited to work for. I have began to work on honing in my design skills and plan to practice consistently over the course of the next seven months to try and become the best designer I can be by the time I graduate.


    I do have a few questions for those here that work in Mechanical Design and I would really appreciate you taking the time to give me your input!


    What industry do you work in?


    What is your favorite aspect of being a Design Engineer?


    What is your least favorite?


    What separates the good Design Engineers from the bad? In a sense- what makes you good at what you do?


    Do you keep any books/notes handy with you at your desk that you find yourself referencing often?


    What courses from college do you feel your job requires the most knowledge of?


    How do you begin designing a part from the ground up? What is your process of conceptualizing a part or component that is needed? (for example - how would you begin to visualize and conceptualize a bracket or a manifold - are you usually given requirements first that your design has to meet?)


    What tips can you give a college student looking to become better at CAD software and a better overall Design Engineer?


    Please don't feel obligated to answer all of my questions as I appreciate any input or guidance that you can offer. Thank you very much for your time in advance.

  2. #2
    Technical Fellow jboggs's Avatar
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    > What industry do you work in?
    Currently specialty steels. Experience in many different manufacturing areas: automotive, machine tools, glass, tires, electronics, lighting, ...


    > What is your favorite aspect of being a Design Engineer?
    Seeing my ideas come to life, work as planned, continue to work as planned, and actually solve a problem.


    > What is your least favorite?
    Negative people (but I have even developed effective ways of working with them too over the decades)
    Management of people, budgets, and stupid policies from above.


    > What separates the good Design Engineers from the bad? In a sense- what makes you good at what you do?
    Good design engineers listen. They try to truly understand a problem before trying to solve it. They value input from those that have to use their equipment.
    Good design engineers are ALWAYS asking themselves - "how can this go wrong, or be mis-assembled, or misunderstood, or misused?".
    Then they ask those questions again. And again.
    Never underestimate the capability of those who will build or use your designs to creatively screw it up.
    They ask, "Will I be proud to have my name attached to this project?"
    They understand the importance of clear, simple, and thorough communication in both graphic and written form.
    They take responsibility for their work, their mistakes. They don't make excuses, even valid ones.
    They understand the laws of physics, transmission of forces, vectors.
    They go above and beyond, not to show loyalty to a company, but because their own pride will let them do no less.
    They NEVER STOP learning. Stay on top of the industry literature and publications. Learn about new products and how to use them properly.

    Bad design engineers ask themselves "is this good enough?" They ask "can it work?". They don't ask "What might keep it from working?"
    Bad design engineers make excuses.
    They put in their 8 hours and go home.


    > Do you keep any books/notes handy with you at your desk that you find yourself referencing often?
    Yes. First on the list - Machinery's Handbook. ALL good mechanical engineers will have their own well worn copy.
    Also, I appreciate paper catalogs. Back in the day, large engineering offices had "Engineering Librarians". Their job was to keep all the hundreds of catalogs and reference books in order. Still today I see more flipping through a paper catalog then I will cruising any website. Paper catalogs are simply better sources of ideas and inspiration.

    > What courses from college do you feel your job requires the most knowledge of?
    Statics, Dynamics, Stress Analysis, Computer programming, Mechanical Drafting, Geometry, Trigonometry, Algebra.
    (Notice I did not say Calculus! Haven't used it once in 40 years!)

    > How do you begin designing a part from the ground up? What is your process of conceptualizing a part or component that is needed? (for example - how would you begin to visualize and conceptualize a bracket or a manifold - are you usually given requirements first that your design has to meet?)
    1) Make sure you have ALL the information you need, or at least as much as is available.
    2) If you're designing something to hold something else in a particular orientation, "start at the end". What is the end result you would like to see as far the relative positions of the components? Draw it.
    3) What is available for support? Is it stable? Is it sturdy? Is it safe? Will it create other conflicts or issues?
    4) Visualize something I call the "force train". What are the forces created by the object being supported? Which direction are they? Where are they applied? Where and in what direction can you apply forces or moments to the supporting object? Are the forces compressive, tensile, or shear? Or a combination? Understanding the types of forces, their sources, and their support points is critical. Become a MASTER of free-body diagrams.
    5) Once you understand the physics of it all, then look at construction options. Materials, methods, etc.
    6) Your structure should follow the force train. My wife has learned that when I enter a large open room the first thing I'm going to do is to look up and examine the roof structure. How is it all held up? How are the forces transmitted thru individual pieces and joints? Why are certain pieces and certain joints configured the way they are? What components are in compression? Bending? Tension? What did the engineer have in mind when he or she designed it? Figure it out.


    > What tips can you give a college student looking to become better at CAD software and a better overall Design Engineer?
    We really don't have enough time for that but I'll give you some basics.
    1) FIRST - Forget CAD. Did you hear me? Forget CAD. You're not operating CAD. You're creating graphical representations of designs that will be used by normal people to build and use your ideas. And CAD is just a tool for that purpose. Anything you do or anything your software does that could inhibit that communication should be eliminated. For example, a design may look great on a screen especially with colors to enhance it, but 90% of the work done from that drawing will come from a 2D black and white paper print. It does not matter how it looks on the screen. It matters how clear the print is in the hands of the shop technician.
    2) In that regard, line weights are critical, and regrettably are often ignored by "CAD operators". Object lines should be heavy weight. Everything else should be lighter weight.
    3) If you are lucky enough to go to work in a facility that still has drawers of old manual drawings, spend as much time as you can studying them. Many of those old guys were true artists. Study their lineweights, their text, their view arrangements. The more hours you spend studying the masters the more likely you are to be one yourself. CAD will not make a good drafter of you. A sloppy carpenter with a good hammer still builds a bad house.
    3) Drawings should be complete and thorough, but not complex and confusing. There should be a good reason for every line, symbol, or piece of text on a drawing. Do you need hidden lines there, or do they just confuse the viewer? Think about these things. The more stuff you can REMOVE from a drawing without affecting its accuracy or clarity the better. More is NOT better.

    I have lots more...

    Work hard, pay attention, and Enjoy!

  3. #3
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    I believe the above does an excellent job of answering your questions so below are a few additions:

    What is your favorite aspect of being a Design Engineer?
    For me it was the challenges that the job brings, I am now retired but I spent my last 20 years of my ME career doing "New Product Research and Development" of "ASME Section VIII Pressure Vessel Code" pilot operated high pressure relief valves used in cryogenic, corrosive and high temperature applications.

    What courses from college do you feel your job requires the most knowledge of?
    Stress analysis, that is what separates an engineer from a designer.

    Do you keep any books/notes handy with you at your desk that you find yourself referencing often?
    It can depend on the job; but I agree the "Machinery Handbook for Engineers" is at the top of the list, another I frequently reference is the "Standard Handbook for Mechanical Engineers" by Baumeister & Marks ( pretty much referred to as "Marks handbook" another less accessed but really the key handbook on stress analysis is "Roark's Formulas for Stress and Strain".

    What separates the good Design Engineers from the bad? In a sense- what makes you good at what you do?
    Diligence in your work, everyone makes mistakes, but, the trick is to find them yourself, before someone else has to.
    As stated above check everything carefully and more than once.
    Keep in mind that there are no "small or insignificant details"
    A big one is, while designing "FOCUS ON WHAT YOU ARE DOING" and don't let what is going on around you or issues you have outside of your job distract you from what you are trying to achieve. I have observed that ability divides a good engineer from all the rest.
    Seek information from the experienced engineers in your department and personnel in other departments including the people that are going to produce what you are designing. Learn from their experience. The best source of information I ever had came from the Product Field Servicing Dept, upon beginning a new design or a modification of an existing product the first thing I always did was go straight to the servicing personnel and ask them "Have you ever seen anything like this before? or What do think of this?" because if there is a field service problem with a design of an item they are going to be the ones dealing with it when it happens.

    How do you begin designing a part from the ground up?
    Start getting the absolutely most information possible on what like it has been done before, what problems did those have and what exactly are the performance perimeters expected of your design.

    CAD and FEA
    CAD now means solid modeling particularly in the aerospace industry so any training or experience you can obtain will be valuable for your start at your new job.
    FEA can be an engineer's best friend, or, worst enemy. DO NOT assume that FEA is "plug and play" because it takes experienced operators and engineers to insure the correct meshing is applied to a model to insure an accurate result from an FEA analysis. A lack of understanding this is one of the major issues for new engineers.

  4. #4
    Technical Fellow jboggs's Avatar
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    Excellent information there Jalberts! I find it very interesting that the three books you mentioned will always be at the top of any list from experienced mechanical engineers. (Along with a well worn bright yellow McMaster catalog!)

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