Image Source: https://industrialpartners.de/en – custom control unit / communication system
Though mechanical and design engineering are two very different specialties, their combination is essential to making good products – and that’s especially true when developing input solutions or control units.
First, some basics: a mechanical engineer is the person who makes things work. They study how objects and systems functionally operate; and therefore, they can create objects, equipment, devices, systems, etc. that are practical and useful.
An industry designer, by contrast, focuses on the vision for the product and its aesthetics, including “look and feel.” This goes much further than just making sure the object is “pretty,” however. Device design has psychological dimensions that can affect its usability, user-friendliness, and even factors like sales and customer loyalty (think of the distinctive design choices made by Apple Computers for its MacBook, iPhone, and iPad devices). Branding also plays a role: it’s the designers who ensure that products capture the company’s personality and style.
The key is always to ensure that the design can support the function, and vice versa. A well-engineered product is one in which every aspect has both a design dimension and a functional reason for existing. Think of a simple, old-school rocking chair. The design is the shape of the chair. Its mechanics are the factors that enable it to support a person’s weight without collapsing and to rock on curved runners. These different aspects come together so seamlessly it becomes difficult to say where the design side ends, and the mechanics begin.
That’s as it should be. The marriage of design and mechanics yields optimal products.
The rocking chair is a simplistic example, though. Today, engineers work on incredibly complicated instrumentation and equipment whose design and operation can be fiddly and intricate. Think of input devices, which are the components with which end-users interact with machinery and equipment. Even seemingly simple decisions can be surprisingly subtle and intricate. Should they use a membrane switch or a touchscreen to enable interactivity with the user? Should the touchscreen use resistive or capacitive technology? Should the enclosure be made of stainless steel or another material? Every option has both design and functional implications.
Complicating matters, lot of industrial designers simply don’t understand how to make products that actually work from a mechanical or electronic perspective. For example, the design can be beautiful but may not be logistically practical. That’s where the mechanical engineer comes in. Problems can happen in the reverse direction too: many mechanical engineers underestimate the importance of aesthetic factors and how to build something that will appeal to a broad user base.
Ideally, mechanical engineers should work with industry designers from the very beginning of any given project. This is particularly true of complex, intricate devices like sensors, input devices, control units, and so on. If the mechanical engineer and the industrial designer do not work together from the start of a product development project, they may end up compromising the quality of the final product. The functionality may exclude certain design elements unnecessarily, or certain designs may constrain potential functionality. Only when working together from the very start, can these issues be avoided.
Hoffmann + Krippner and its partners make a point of fusing mechanical engineering and industrial design. For more information, please visit our Partners page.
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Technical wordsmith and guest blogger for Hoffmann + Krippner.