Mechanical engineering is one of the oldest disciplines, dating back to hundreds of years through the formative years of science. In the fields of physics and material sciences, mechanical engineering has been pivotal in breaking new ground to provide new technologies that has benefited every other engineering discipline. Over the years this improvement in the mechanical field has also led to the diversification of the domain into multiple fields like structural analysis , kinematics and much more.
With the advent of computers and precision machines, the mechanical components that need to be fabricated have become more and more complex. These days developing products for mechanical systems require a very unique approach and an understanding of core level requirements that is unique to the field.
A brief history :
In the earlier times after the industrial revolution, there has been a large need for extremely specialised mechanical components for various applications. One of the decisive factors in mechanical design has always been the zero margin for error. These tiniest of imperfections and the smallest detail that has been missed will always result in a component or product that does not lilve up to specifications. When this happens, the entire product line is put in jeopardy. A thorough and professional approach is required to eliminate the problems that plagued the earlier design and manufacturing processes.
These methodologies that have evolved over the years, have taken into account the earlier issues and try to reduce the risk of making a defective component. Moving through the steps involved in a mechanical product, one can see the logical simplicity and systematic procedures which are the hall mark of the mechanical engineering domain.
The research stage
The first step taken towards any requirement is the thorough understanding of what is required. A complete study of what is the issue that need to be addressed or what is the component that need to be manufactured should be undertaken.In addition to this, a feasibility study of the proposed product is also done initially to make sure that such a product or component is indeed possible. This step will involve analysis of literature and existing designs, looking for clues in the earlier or related systems. An exhaustive research process must predate any product development as the specifications are determined based on the data collected in this step. Expertise in the research and development processes is very essential as the findings and the decisions at this stage dictate the road map for the entire product development life cycle.
The design and verification stage
Once the need has been identified and the product to fulfill that need is determined, the entire scenario shifts to the design stage. This is where the actual technical specifications of the product are chartered out by a group of experts. There are many aspects to be noted and taken care of during the design stage. The parameters of the design are decided and various tests are conducted during this stage. With the advent of softwares in recent years, the design process has become a lot simpler and integrates many further advancements. These add on processes were not possible before and provide the designer with an idea of what are the issues that need to be addressed.
The design stage is a very crucial one, as it dictates the terms of how the component or product needs to be designed down to its dimensions along with other physical and chemical paramaters.
The material selection :
The materials that make up the component needs to be selected appropriately and must go hand in hand with the design step. The research process should be thorough enough to determine the best suitable material from which the component should be fabdricated. The materials used can vary from aluminium to polyoxymethylene or delrin based on the requirements. Like every other step in mechanical design the material selection process should be extremely thorough and exhaustive testing must accompany the selection of the materials.
Clear understanding of the core mechanical concepts are very necessary at this stage as the components have to go through a series of tests to determine if it is indeed suitable for the positioning it has received in the overall design. There are a multitude of tests to understand the various physical properties and chemical properties of the material to be used in fabrication. With tools for rational material selection, today’s processes have cut down on the time and effort required for material selection. But a solid understanding of the issue to be addressed and the role to be played by the material is necessary to infer the right information from the analysis softwares.
The drawing stage
The drawing process is the way through which an actual diagram of the component or product is created. During the formative years, draftsmen would create design that listed out the mechanical specifications down to the last micro meter and create designs that could be understood by the manufacturer. Over the years, softwares like CAD have replaced the back breaking work of drafting and creating designs to the exact specifications. A solid understanding of the various requirements of the product as a whole is an absolute requirement for preparing a relevant and accurate design.
When it comes to components for extremely complex machines like an engine component or a space shuttle the drawing stage plays a very vital role. When the number of components increases, the interaction between them and the possibility of a tiny flaw causing a entire system crash rises exponentially. With the latest engineering design systems, the accuracy can be maintained to the highest degree possible.
The material science stage:
The materials that are used for construction of components has always been one of the most vital areas of mechanical design and product development. Designs that would not have been possible in the earlier days are now a days becoming an option because of the variety of materials available ranging from aluminium to carbon composites. With the latest developments and requirements and fields of science pushing the limits of technology there is a bewildering array of materials that are available for the designer. With thorough knowledge of the basics in material sciences and their properties it is possible to take on even the most advanced of technologies like aircraft systems and space technologies.
The material science and the design of the component go hand in hand as the design parameters are determined based on the properties of the available materials. Tpday’s softwares come with the advantage of integrating the physical properties of various materials and these can be tested out in the design stage.
With the advent of softwares like Autodesk Inventor which is a CAD/CAM/CAE( Computer Aided Design/Coumputer Aided Manufacturing/Computer Aided Engineering) tool there have been a lot of changes in the manufacturing domain. The earlier era in mechanical product development was made costly because of the fact that components had to be manufactured and then tested to collect real time data. This had made advanced technologies like military technologioes and aviation systems very costly. But with the systems of today it is possible to simulate the various materials that are available and find out the absolute necessary details about the end product with a great degree of accuracy. Applying various materials to different designs has given the edge back to the engineer as he is no longer limited by cost factors that had previously ruled out trying different materials.
With such an integrated systems and a sound knowledge of the fundamentals across different disciplines the designer can create a product that provides no compromise on the requirement for which the component is to be designed.
One of the biggest advantages of the latest softwares is the latest portability to the manufacturing sector. With the diagrams being transferred to manufacturing machines like CNC systems, it becomes easy to create a prototype of a component or a product in the shortest possible time. With rapid prototyping processes the turn around time for proof of concept for a product or a design is quite simple. The dimensions and results of the CNC machines are accurate to a very high degree and are very reliable across a wide range of materials.
Like any such technology the CAD/ CAM softwares and systems make the designers job much simpler. But care should be taken when dealing with systems of great complexity, as a slight misunderstanding of the fundamentals and errors in the design stage will translate directly to the manufacturing process. Expertise available in the market should be carefully consulted and a robust process must be established before even attempting a product design. With today's options in software and systems, a high quality technology partner can create, test and manufacture components to a very high degree of accuracy and reduce unwanted costs for all products.