Jack, H., Farris, Choudhuri, S., J. Anyalebechi, P, Standridge, C., “Embrcing Product Design Engineering”, ASME INTERNATIONAL DESIGN ENGINEERING TECHNICAL CONFERENCE & COMPUTERS & INFORMATION IN ENGINEERING CONFERENCE, Las Vegas, NV, 2007

Embracing Product Design Engineering

Hugh Jack, John Farris, Shabbir Choudhuri, Princewill Anyalebechi, Charlie Standridge, Grand Valley State University



A Product Design and Manufacturing (PDM) Engineering emphasis has been designed to update a Manufacturing Engineering program at Grand Valley State University. While the program continues to include a major focus on manufacturing it also emphasizes crossing disciplinary boundaries for product design. Graduates of the program are educated to work in all phases of the product development process from concept to customer. The program includes a blend of courses from a variety of disciplines, tieing these together using a sequence of product design courses. Within the courses students are exposed to course work that encourages product oriented design including prototyping. The program redesign described in the paper could also be applied to Mechanical Engineering programs.




In industry many engineers carry the title ‘Product and/or Design Engineer’ or ‘Manufacturing Engineer’. For example a search on a popular Internet job search engine [8] returned the following number of hits for the state of California on February 26, 2007.

Mechanical Engineer (1542)

Manufacturing Engineer (1898)

Product Design Engineer (2413)

This is ironic given the relatively small number of graduates from Manufacturing Engineering programs, and the complete lack of ‘Product Engineering’ programs. The typical route is for a student to graduate from a well known program such as Mechanical Engineering and be assigned one of the alternate titles by their employer. In some cases this is merely a bureaucratic change. But, in other cases a junior engineer can find themselves unprepared to deal with the design issues. Consider a Product Designer (Mechanical Engineer) who has been educated in solids and structures. He or she may be able to develop a structural frame that supports all of the given load cases, but then specify tolerances and processes that are difficult and costly to manufacture. Similar issues occur for Manufacturing Engineers who are unaware of many of the subtleties of structural design and often make changes that impact the functionality. On top of this misalignment of education and employment, most modern industries deal with products that cross many disciplinary boundaries.


It would be convenient to say that our changes were motivated by the desire to fulfil the industrial demand for Product Design Engineers. But, our changes were precipitated by declining enrollments, the result of poor public perceptions of manufacturing. However, the faculty decided to use the opportunity to solve the problem constructively. Input about desired outcomes was sought from the constituents listed below.

- Students, their parents, and counsellors

- Companies employing our graduates

- Faculty

- Advisory boards

- National studies and trends


The resulting program redesign is a judicious blend of topics that industry requires but that incoming students will also find attractive. For our industrial base we needed to continue offering manufacturing knowledge, augment it with other product design aspects. For incoming students we needed to break the mental imagery of working in a dark dingy factory tied to a production line. Moreover the selection of a new program name puts the emphasis on easily understood ‘products’, instead of the more ethereal ‘manufacturing’. The following sections will explore the justifications in greater detail.


An obvious consideration in the redesign of the program is ABET accreditation. The changes and new title are consistent with the ABET criteria for Manufacturing programs [11]. Interestingly enough, the program changes satisfy the criteria better than the existing program.


The program must demonstrate that graduates have proficiency in materials and manufacturing processes: understanding the behavior and properties of materials as they are altered and influenced by processing in manufacturing; process, assembly and product engineering: understanding the design of products and the equipment, tooling, and environment necessary for their manufacture; manufacturing competitiveness: understanding the creation of competitive advantage through manufacturing planning, strategy, and control; manufacturing systems design: understanding the analysis, synthesis, and control of manufacturing operations using statistical and calculus based methods, simulation and information technology; laboratory experience: graduates must be able to measure manufacturing process variables in a manufacturing laboratory and make technical inferences about the process.


The redesign of the program began in the fall of 2003. At that time we were unaware of a similar effort that had already been completed at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois [9]. Their program is entitled Manufacturing and Design Engineering. It contains many courses with a similar emphasis on products with a strong coverage of manufacturing. They were recently visited and received a 6 year renewal of their accreditation.




Our Manufacturing Engineering program was in jeopardy because of declining numbers of incoming students. This was in spite of overwhelming local calls for more graduates. Overall the numbers in the school of engineering were increasing, students were simply avoiding disciplines that they perceived as higher risk. Many of the other twenty-some programs across the country are experiencing similar trends [12]. The crisis reached a head in the fall of 2003 when our secondary admit class hit a low of 4 applications (all wanted dual majors with Manufacturing and Mechanical). Historically, the program had its first graduates in 1997, and the incoming class was well over a dozen by 2000.


Manufacturing has always suffered from a poor image among students and teachers, as described in the National Associate of Manufacturers report [1].


When asked to describe the images that they associate with a career in manufacturing, student respondents quickly and consistently offered phrases such as "production or assembly line work" work in a "factory" or "plant" that is "repetitious," "boring," "tedious," "dangerous," "dark" and "dirty." They felt that manufacturing required "hard work" and "long hours" but provided only "low pay," with "no chance for promotion" or "benefits." Others equated a career in manufacturing to "serving a life sentence" and being "on a chain gang," "slave to the line" or even a "robot."


Before the economic downturn in 2000 many students were attracted to manufacturing with the promise of high salaries. After the economic downturn the popular press dramatically publicized many manufacturing layoffs. Understandably students, parents, and counsellors were hesitant recommend manufacturing as a career choice. Unfortunately the popular media tended to sensationalize the layoffs of low skill workers, and discuss the threat of offshoring [10] while down-playing the increasing need for highly skilled workers and the resulting productivity enhancements [7].


It is worth noting that Chemical Engineering programs had experienced a similar image crisis in the 1990s. There were perceptions that traditional chemical industrial were being displaced by bio-technology. Oddly enough the Chemical Engineering programs already contained a significant bio-chemical component, but their program names did not reflect it. As a result they saw continuously decreasing enrollments. To reverse this trend many of the programs changed their names and content [3] and have seen an increase in enrolments.


When redesigning curriculum there is an opportunity to ask larger questions. For example, offshoring has devalued many traditional engineering functions, such as CAD (Computer Aided Design) and FEA (Finite Element Analysis) work. Some companies have embraced these technologies to reduce cost or time, while others have decided that the cost of exporting the work is not effective. Regardless, our graduates are much more likely to work in a global environment. For some this means working with international suppliers. For others this may mean that he or she has an office in Grand Rapids and Shanghai. Labor intensive manufacturing has been one of the early test cases for offshoring. Engineering work, software development, and business functions have also been tested with a range of success. One of the hardest functions to offshore is product design - how well would somebody in a tropical region design a new snowblower? Within the US, innovative design is recognized as a strategic advantage for companies [4]. Moreover, product design has also been considered as a tool to include underrepresented groups [5][6]. This may help attract new students to the programs that we would not have seen before.


There have been some studies done to determine what American manufacturers expect from their engineers. The Society of Manufacturing Engineers Manufacturing Education Plan [2] lists 15 items considered in significant demand by business and professionals. This list was considered when redesigning the program.


1. Business Knowledge/Skills

2. Supply Chain Management

3. Project Management

4. International Perspective

5. Materials

6. Manufacturing Process Control

7. Written & Oral Communication

8. Product/Process Design

9. Quality

10. Specific Manufacturing Processes

11. Manufacturing Systems

12. Problem Solving

13. Teamwork (working effectively with others)

14. Personal Attributes

15. Engineering Fundamentals





Students in an incoming freshman class, EGR 101 - CAD/CAM, were asked “Why do you want to be an engineer?”, the comments from one section are listed below. (Note: the responses are given including grammar mistakes, although spelling has been corrected). Reading the comments it is obvious that many of these students would be attracted to Manufacturing/PDM Engineering. However, after the secondary admission process in the second year, fewer than 5% enter the Manufacturing program. Underlines are used to indicate the sections where students specifically mention design. Note that of the 24 comments, 9 specifically mention design.


Because I have always been interested in buildings and how they are constructed. I loved Legos and building whatever I could out of them and now I want to enter into a career that is similar in a sense to that. I love to build and I take pride in completing something that is going to be used by many.

I enjoy designing things.

because I feel it is the most important and essential job on earth.

Everything comes from engineering

I would like to become an engineer because they have a hand in everything that is used by people, from toasters to automobiles. I would like to become a member of the group who makes the items we use better for everybody.

I like to design things with AutoCAD, and I thought being an engineer would fit me best

Engineering sounded like a career that I would enjoy the most because of my sciences interest. It also sounded like a profession that would be profitable. Finally, designing useful products is a good goal in life.

I want to be an engineer because I make/build/design anything I want within reason and then sell it for a profit, benefiting myself, and my fellow humans.

I am really enjoy solving complicating problems.

I have always loved the building and mechanics of weapons, computers, and Air-craft. I wish to learn how to build and design such things and make those we have better.

I've always loved designing and building things, especially with computers. Engineering just seemed to be the natural choice for me.

I love computers and i don’t want to be a programmer. I would love to design computer systems or something in that area. The best way to do this is to be an engineer.

I want to be an engineer because i feel that i would excel in this career and enjoy this. I attended a camp that really helped me to decide that engineering was for me. That camp was the [name removed] for technology held on the [name removed] University Campus. I decided then that i really enjoyed problem solving coming up with new and out of the box ideas. I believe that you must enjoy your job in order to be successful in your job. THis is why i choose to be an engineer.

I think that there are really two main reasons why I want to become and engineer. The first reason is that I enjoy this kind of working. I like work that makes me think and I enjoy working through challenges. The second reason is that my dad is and engineer and so I have worked with him and that is how I have gotten some insight into the field.

I've always like math and science and also like to design things.

i like the challenge and i like the money and i like to play with electricity

I have been know to be very structured and logical. Plus I love to build things especially electronics.

I would really like to design boats some day

I want to have a career that I can like and make a difference in a company.

To have the ability to change, shape, and determine the future.

It's who I am. I've always thought I would be one and it interests me.

I like working with problems and coming up with unseen ways to fix them. We'll see how it goes!


I have just come to realize that engineering is the type of work that I want to do; and that was reinforced by my internship at [company name removed] this past summer.


A key to attracting students, and designing a program is to focus on many of the positive aspects the students are looking for. A reasonable list is given below.


• empowered, free individuals

- flexible time, not punching clocks

- not tied to a desk or a production line

- managing large budgets and many people

- more dynamic career choices

- important roles in companies including management

• active

- designing and building

- using new high-technologies, computers and methods

• people oriented

- work with a diverse group of people in multiple disciplines

- travel to many interesting places and cultures

• rewarding

- helping society and making a difference

- good salaries, benefits and bonuses

- determining the best ways to satisfy customers

- support the security of the country by building self-dependence



A few goals were set for the redesign of the program.


• Recognize products as the driving force behind our engineering program.

• Revise the curriculum to address the new needs of globalization.

• Promote the positive image of the discipline to the general public.

• Attract academically strong, high achieving students.

• Clarify the definition of Manufacturing Engineering and Product Design.


The most problematic term in the program redesign was the word ‘design’. Every engineering discipline does design work. For example, an engineer verifying pressure vessel strengths using hand calculations and FEA (Finite Element Analysis) software is doing ‘Mechanical Design’. An engineer matching impedances for amplifiers is doing ‘Electronic Design’. An engineer selecting a porosity for a casting is doing ‘Materials Design’. But, when doing ‘Product Design’, all of these design types, and more, are called into play. We must keep in mind that using the work ‘Design’ without a context is meaningless.


Ultimately the outcome of most engineering design work is some ‘Product’. For example to design a chair, there is substantial design work, mainly by mechanical designers and manufacturing process designers. When these engineering works are combined they constitute a product design. However, there are elements of ‘Product Design’ that are not part of the sub-disciplines. Therefore it is useful to divide design as shown in Figure 1.



To reflect the new emphasis on Product Design the title of the program was changed to Product Design and Manufacturing Engineering (PDM) (note: the lack of commas is intentional.) This program emphasizes both the design and manufacturing of products. The program redesign reduced the focus on manufacturing processes, in particular manual manufacturing processes (covered in EGR 373 and EGR 470). The shifted focus allows more time for product design courses (EGR 301 and EGR 401), and a higher level view of manufacturing production systems. The new curriculum is shown in Figure 2. In summary the changes made were EGR 371 - Simulation and EGR 373 - Scheduling and Control have been replaced with a single course EGR 440 - Production Models that combines simulation with theoretical models to examine production. EGR 470 - Product and Process Design was eliminated and replaced with a two course sequence in product design, EGR 301 - Analytical Tools for Product Design and EGR 401 - Advanced Product Design to deepen the Product Design sequence. In the short term the program is short of electives, and shares many core courses with the ME students, but as the program grows these PDM only core and elective courses will be created.


EGR 301 Analytical Tools for Product Design. Analytic methods in product design are integrated to produce designs that meet customer needs and can be manufactured competitively. The course includes functional analysis, concept generation, concept selection, material selection, GD&T, tolerance analysis, design for producibility and product design planning.


EGR 401 Advanced Product Design. Advanced topics in product design are integrated to prepare students to function effectively on diverse design teams. The course will cover topics such as opportunity assessment, quality function deployment (QFD), rapid prototying, product architecture, and protection of intellectual property. Course material will be reinforced with design project work.


EGR 440 Production Models. An introduction to analytic and simulation models as well as their application to current production strategies, particularly lean manufacturing. Emphasis on workstations, inventories, flow lines, Kanban and CONWIP, and cellular manufacturing. Computer based solution techniques, case studies, and case problems are employed.

Figure 3 shows the elements addressed in our curriculum. Items in dashed boxes are addressed to an intermediate level by required courses. Items in the solid boxes are addressed to a high level by required courses. In the new curriculum students are able to conduct high level design work that combines elements such as mechanical, electrical, and software design. It is becoming common for PDM students to design and build prototypes for products that are fully automated.


As discussed before, the transition from the Manufacturing Engineering program to the PDM program was in response to the changing economy, partly driven by globalization. As the more labor intensive tasks are moved off-shore, there is a reduced need for many of the ‘shop-floor’ oriented topics. As a result the curriculum focuses at a higher level, as shown in Figure 3.




The Manufacturing Engineering program started in 1997 and the incoming junior level class grew yearly until it reached a peak of 12 students in 2000. By 2004 this had declined to 4 students, all of whom were dual majors (i.e., none were purely Manufacturing Engineering students.) The new program was informally introduced from 2004-6, and formalized in the summer of 2006. Since the PDM faculty members voted to unanimously implement the changes to the curriculum the program has seen a complete reversal of the downward enrolment trend and continued growth is expected. The number of incoming juniors in the fall of 2006 was 11. This number is expected to be higher this fall. As part of the regular ABET outcomes assessment process, the new program will be evaluated for content and applicability to industry. The outcome assessment results will be presented in a paper when available.


The intellectual outcomes of the program have already begun to bear fruit. To date students from the PDM program have generated more applications to the university’s Intellectual Property Committee than all of the other groups and individuals on campus combined. Presently there is one device moving towards a patent, with a number of others under consideration.


The changes that have been described in this paper could be implemented in Mechanical Engineering programs. For example a traditional Mechanical Engineering program could add a minimalist ‘Product Design and Manufacturing’ emphasis that would require the equivalent of our courses EGR 301, EGR 401, and EGR 367. In the school many of the Mechanical Engineering students use EGR 301 and EGR 367 as electives. A more extensive version of a PDM emphasis might include expanded study in advanced materials, management, multidisciplinary engineering, or industrial engineering.




[1] "Keeping America Competitive; How a Talent Shortage Threatens U.S. Manufacturing", a National Association of Manufacturers White Paper, http://www.nam.org, 2003.


[2] "Manufacturing Education Plan; Phase III: 2001-2002 Critical Competency Gaps", the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Education Foundation, http://www.sme.org/downloads/foundation/Competency_Gap.pdf, 2001.


[3] Halford, B., "Pursuing New Paths", ASEE Prism, http://www.prism-magazine.org/nov03/pursuing_paths.cfm, Nov., 2003.


[4] SERVICES 2000; A Conference and Dialogue on Global Policy Developments and U.S. Business, http://www.ita.doc.gov/td/sif/2kfullreport.htm, 1999.


[5] Kanter, E., "Women in the Driving Seat", Asbury Park Press, http://www.app.com/ontherun/story/0,20853,948356,00.html, April 21, 2004.


[6] McNulty, Z. (translated by), "Female Printer from Epson", http://www.techjapan.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=170&mode=thread&order=0&thold=0, Mar., 16, 2004


[7] Kelley, C., Wang, M., et.al., “High-Technology Manufacturing and U.S. Competitiveness”, Rand Science and Technology technical report TR-136-OSTP, March 2004, http://www.rand.org/publications/TR/TR136/TR136.sum.pdf.


[8] http://www.monster.com


[9] http://www.made.northwestern.edu/


[10] Friedman, T., “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.


[11] ABET, “Criteria for Accrediting Engineering Programs”, http://www.abet.org/forms.shtml, 2007.


[12] Jack, H., “The State of Manufacturing Engineering Education”, SME Technical Paper TP05PUB209, November 2005.



PRINCEWILL ANYALEBECHI holds a Ph.D. in Metallurgy from Brunel University, England. He is a chartered engineer (C.Eng.) of the British Engineering Council and a professional member (MIM) of the Institute of Materials, London. He is a member of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), American Foundryman Society (AFS), American Society for Metals (ASM) International, and The Minerals, Metals, and Materials Society (TMS). He currently serves on the national TMS Materials Processing Fundamentals Committee. Areas of research interest include hydrogen in metals, materials and process selection, product failure analysis, control and characterization of microstructure evolution during solidification of castings and welds, and in thermo-mechanical processing and heat treatment of metal products.


SHABBIR CHOUDHURI is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering at Grand Valley State University. He holds a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology and a Masters and Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research from Pennsylvania State University.


JOHN FARRIS is an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering at Grand Valley State University. He earned his Bachelors and Masters degrees at Lehigh University and his Doctorate at the University of Rhode Island. He has 6 years of college engineering teaching experience as well as 3 years of industrial design experience. His teaching interests lie in the first year design, design for manufacture and assembly, interdisciplinary design and machine design.


HUGH JACK earned his bachelors degree in electrical engineering, and masters and Ph.D. degrees in mechanical engineering at the University of Western Ontario. He is currently an associate professor at Grand Valley State University and chairs the graduate and manufacturing programs. His research interests include using open source software for industrial control.


CHARLIE STANDRIDGE is the Graduate Director of the School of Engineering at Grand Valley State University. His primary interest is in production operations and supply chain management. He teaches courses in simulation, production scheduling and control, as well as engineering data analysis. He is an associate editor of the journal Simulation and consults with companies in his areas of interest.