Department of Mechanical & Manufacturing Engineering
Supervisor: Dr Gareth Bennett
Fostering Engineering Innovation through Open Design
There is a greater need for engineers capable of good design thinking now more than ever and the aim of my research is to foster innovation amongst engineers by improving design education.
My supervisor is Dr Gareth Bennett. In his view, “If a company is to be successful and continue to do well in these challenging times, employees need to be able to generate their own ideas. So, instead of a system of manufacturing products that other people have designed, we need to create indigenous ideas and indigenous designs, leading to a generation of indigenous jobs.”
In the past, the educational emphasis in teaching engineers has resulted in a sound theoretical knowledge, but a lack of experience in applying that knowledge in real-world situations. As a result, groups like Engineers Ireland have identified a need to change the way engineering is taught. They would like to see engineers that are more industry-focused, more customer-focused, able to work in cross-disciplinary teams that have better communication skills and are willing to solve real-world problems.
The response of Trinity College Dublin has been to incorporate more practical design into the engineering education. These include designing objects such as sustainable shelters, solar-powered stoves and so on. The projects are generated in order to facilitate students working in teams and to stimulate creativity and innovation.
However, it is not enough just take a ‘blank page’ approach to design, where students design products and technologies from entirely from scratch. In reality, most designs are an evolution of a previous design, or an amalgamation of previous solutions combined in a novel way, for a novel purpose. In other words, it’s a cumulative, iterative process. Engineers will likely work on a project that has already begun and they need to be able to respond to what has happened before they began to participate, understand it and then move from that point, in a collaborative way, to advance it.
Professor Paul Coughlan, co-Director of the Innovation Academy and an engineer himself, says, “They need not just to come up with the optimal engineering solution, but they need to design it with the kind of sensitivity to the context that they’re working in – keeping in mind the people who’ll interact with the design, the timelines and the budgets, the economic context into which it is being put.”
My research project will attempt to make use of open design, which is mechanical equipment and open-source software. Open design projects develop technology in a collaborative, open manner in which design information is shared. This could provide educators and students with valuable resources and learning materials. The students can then contribute these materials, which will in turn help future students. A famous example of this type of process is Wikipedia, whose users generate the content.
The goal of my research is to produce graduates who can use design thinking to tackle real-world problems and make a significant contribution to Ireland’s knowledge economy.