Measured Against Reality

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Design Project

I’m currently taking a class called ME 101: Visual Thinking. It’s all about generating ideas to solve problems and then implementing them, all with constraints (time, size, budget, etc).

We were recently assigned the second Design Project, which is supposed to be fairly challenging. The task is simple, design a machine that does a pull-up. It can be no more than two feet by two feet by two feet, and it has to reach a bar that is three feet high, and pull itself off the ground just a little. I’ve already designed and built my machine, and it works.

These exercises is useful for a few reasons. First is that it gets you thinking about how to accomplish tasks. You have to deconstruct the overall task and decide how you want to do each individual task. Then you have to start drawing designs, coming up with concrete ways to solve each problem. You have to learn to adequately get your thoughts onto paper, you have to learn how to draw so that you can understand it later, and you have to be able to communicate your ideas to your partners.

Then you start building, which is the fun and frustrating part of the class. You need to be able to figure out how to turn a sketch into a machine. You need to be able to troubleshoot, to foresee problems, and to solve problems mechanically. You learn how to actually build, how to control forces, how to handle friction, how materials behave, what you can actually accomplish with the materials you have, and so much more.

You also need to learn how to budget your time between coming up with concepts, refining designs, building, and troubleshooting.

All of these things are important skills to have, which is what makes this class so valuable. The number one most difficult aspect of the design process, according to most members of the class, is communicating ideas to others effectively. I wouldn’t be too surprised if most people have this problem. Effective communication is absolutely necessary in any but the most solitary of environments, and having to explain every single constituent part of a complex machine and how they all go together can give you a good lesson in it fairly quickly.

My advice if you want to get better at communicating ideas, as well as all of these things is a weekend project. I recommend a pneumatic cannon. They’re fairly easy, and they can shoot things very far. A lot of fun, and little kids really enjoy seeing them in action (they’ll also be impressed that you built it). But anything will do, even just a little birdhouse. Besides, having turned a pile of materials into some useful machine is a fantastic feeling, building is a lot of fun. So go build something, it’s fun and educational! What more can you ask for?

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  • I remember our early engineering-design classes. They were so much fun. (Sings to self "I wish I could go back to college...")

    Those were the classes that make or break the engineering students. Communication was key when they were group projects. I saw fist-fights break out over designs. I also saw ppl switch majors not long after.

    Outside of class, and much like your pneumatic gun, some of us made a PVC potato-gun using the school's pvc-welder. And we learned through experimentation that Aqua-net was the most flammable hairspray. *sigh* good times :-)

    By Blogger kathaclysm, at 12:23 PM, November 08, 2006  

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