Design engineers use cardboard to prototype every design. Cheap and pliable, cardboard gets the design off the paper and ready to test.
The James Dyson Award recognises student inventions around the world. More than 600 students in 18 countries submitted ideas for the 2013 James Dyson Award. Find out more about the winning designs and how to enter your idea in 2014.
Think like an acoustic engineer. Try building a harmonica with household materials to discover how weight and size affect sound. Acoustic engineers are experts in the science of sound and vibration. Their job is to analyse machines and design solutions to produce a quieter and more pleasant sound. Acoustic engineers often work in teams with…
The Year of Engineering is a UK government led campaign which aims to increase awareness and change perceptions of engineering. The UK will need 1.8 million new engineers by 2022 but currently only 46,000 engineering students are graduating per year. This shortfall is costing the economy billions of pounds every year. 300 businesses from across…
A team of medical and bioengineering undergraduates from McMaster University, Canada have been chosen as the international James Dyson Award 2017 winners. Their design solution, the sKan, is a low cost and non-invasive device that aims to detect melanoma. The sKan was chosen as the international winner by James Dyson who says ‘by using…
To celebrate International Women in Engineering 2017, the James Dyson Foundation invited a group of local female students to meet Dyson engineers and learn about different engineering career paths. The local students first heard from a group of female Dyson engineers who spoke about what they do on a daily basis at work, why they…
The James Dyson Foundation has awarded Toby Chamberlain, a Malmesbury School student, with a scholarship to cover his university tuition fees. The scholarship is awarded to one Malmesbury School A-level student who is planning to study science, technology, engineering or maths at university. The scheme was launched in 2013 as part of the charity’s mission…
The 2016 James Dyson Award national winner for the UK is ISOBAR, a portable vaccine cooling device, designed to maintain the correct temperature of a vaccination so it continues to be safe and effective. The problem: In 2015, an estimated 19.4 million children worldwide failed to receive routine immunisation services, with more than 60% of…
The national winners and runners up in the James Dyson Award 2016 have been announced – with problem-solving ideas ranging from glucose-sensing contact lenses to a vaccine transportation system for the developing world. The inventors behind these projects have each been awarded £2,000 to help them pursue their ideas. The national winners and runners up…
Today, James Dyson opens some of the world’s most advanced engineering facilities at the University of Cambridge – giving the institution’s students and academics the space and means to prototype, invent and collaborate on cutting-edge research. The development has been funded by a £8m donation from the James Dyson Foundation – the largest gift ever…
Every year, the James Dyson Foundation offers a university scholarship to one A-level student at Malmesbury School who intends to study science, technology, engineering, product design or maths at university. This year’s scholarship has been awarded to 18-year-old Adrien Fauvarque. Adrien has applied to study mechanical engineering at several top UK universities. The James Dyson…
“Sean Hopkins, 26, is a reliability engineer at the design and manufacturing company Dyson. He is based in Chicago. Q. Why did you want to become an engineer? A. When I was 5, I built scale models of cars, airplanes and military vehicles from kits. When my mother saw that I was interested in building things,…
Design engineers turn bright ideas into a product on the shelf.
But the design process is not linear. Every design will go back and forth between designing, building and testing. It took James Dyson 5,127 prototypes to create the world’s first bagless vacuum cleaner. James’ perseverance paid off.
Great designs make life easier. The first step is to identify the problem that you want to solve. Everyday frustrations are often the best inspiration.
Dyson engineers start by wrong thinking – going against the norm and trying things differently. Wrong thinking often leads to the best ideas. And sometimes the craziest ideas lead to that “eureka” moment. So remember, any idea goes.
Sketching starts immediately. Getting an idea out of your head and onto paper is the first step to making it a reality. You don’t have to be an artist – it’s about communication not style.
Dyson engineers keep a confidential sketchbook and pencil handy to jot down new ideas. The engineers never worry about how pretty a sketch is. The important thing is that your sketch communicates your idea. The engineers always sign and date each page – an important tool to prove the originality of your idea during the patent process.
The idea doesn’t stay on paper for long. Prototyping, no matter how crude, transforms the idea into a 3D model. Cardboard is a great tool for design engineers – it’s cheap and easy to model.
Dyson engineers use cardboard and foam to model each Dyson machine. Sometimes they add weights to the cardboard models to test the ergonomics of the machine. It helps them understand how the final machine will feel and move in the finished model.
A few cardboard prototypes later, engineers will use Computer Aided Design (CAD) to create technical drawings to plan how the components fit together – it’s a great tool for refining design detail but is no replacement for early sketches and models.
Dyson engineers use CAD to draw out the existing components, like the motor, and then sketch the components still in development by hand. The engineers will revisit CAD later in the design process when the details of the design are worked out.
The CAD file is a blueprint for 3D printers. The printer reads the file and then slices the image into hundreds of layers. These layers are then printed one by one and laid on top of one another to create the prototype – a bit like a loaf of bread.
Before 3D printing was developed, Dyson engineers could only build a couple of test rigs. They were delicate and not able to withstand rigorous testing. Now Dyson engineers create 40 to 50 fully functional machines using 3D printing. Rapid prototyping isn’t cheap. Each machine costs between £5,000 and £10,000. But working out any kinks in the design before manufacture saves a lot of time and money.
With a few working machines at the ready, design engineers can begin testing – a vital part of the design process. It’s a chance to identify and evaluate the weaknesses of the machine. This is where the design process begins to go in circles. But perfectionism creates a better design – one that can withstand the abuse of users.
Dyson engineers use mechanical rigs to replicate how the machine will be used. For vacuum cleaners, a specific quantity of special test dust is rolled into the carpet and then vacuumed an exact number of strokes. The bin is then weighed to determine the pick-up of the machine.
Mechanical rigs and robots also allow engineering to test the durability of a machine – each prototype will withstand 10,000 repetitions by a test robot. It’s a lot quicker than having an engineer replicate the same motion again and again.
Dyson engineers don’t stop there. A high speed camera captures 40,000 frames a second revealing the finest detail of the air and dust moving through the machine. This helps the fluid dynamic team at Dyson fine tune the airflow of the machine.
And then it’s on to sound. Dyson vacuums are powerful so engineers take care to measure and reduce noise volume. Anechoic chambers are used to test the noise volume but also the sound quality of Dyson machines. Certain pitches can cause irritation – and drive pets mad.
Once the design has survived testing it’s time to think about manufacturing – a design process of its own. A new team of engineers now have to figure out how to turn the prototype into a machine that can be mass-produced.
Injection molding creates the prototype by shooting hot plastic into a mould to create a solid part. Each part of the machine requires a separate mould – so there’s a lot to work out. Injection moulding tools are expensive and the design of the tool is as important as the design of the machine. Complex tools with multiple injection points are very expensive – up to £94,000 – so engineers are challenged to create the simplest tools for complicated parts.
The new machine is sent back to the test lab for more banging, hitting, dropping and pulling. A turntable helps the machine replicate the thousands of miles it will travel across the floors in a lifetime – the average prototype travels more than 9,000 miles or the distance from London to Chicago.
But testing is not just left to the robots. There’s nothing like getting the machine into the hands of users so each machine hits a user course where a team tests the machines to breaking point – 200 cycles of machine abuse.
When the machine survives this second round of testing it’s off to the assembly line. Here a cunning design technique is put to the test – poke yoke ( or ‘pokey yokey’). Engineers fail-proof every machine so that people can only put it together one way, avoiding mistakes and confusion. So if the engineers have poke-yoke’d the design correctly the assembly line keeps moving along.
Before the machine can hit the store shelf, you have to protect your idea.
Patents are legal documents that ensure that you are the only person allowed to produce your idea for 20 years. The patent process is extremely expensive and 20 years isn’t very long. So the moment you choose to patent your idea is nearly as important as the patent itself.
But patents are not just about profiting from your invention – it’s also about sharing your idea. The 20 year limit allows people to take your technology and improve upon it.
Sean wanted to be a fire fighter, a pilot, a race car driver and even an astronaut. He was captivated by speed, exploration and the world around him.
Read MoreDan Watson Freelance Designer
Dan is a freelance designer who grabbed headlines in 2012 as the global winner of the James Dyson Award.
From nano to mega, the potential of engineering to change the world fascinates Orlina. It’s exciting and solves problems at the same time.