Design engineering puts problem solvers to the test. We want students to use their heads and hands to solve real world problems. A bit of failure along the way is ok – it leads to new, and even better, ideas.
Engineering is exciting and useful. It challenges students to put their science and math skills to practical use.
Learn more about the James Dyson Foundation’s free classroom resources – from exploring the design process to taking machines apart to find out how they work.
Edward Linacre won the 2011 James Dyson Award with his invention AirDrop – a low-cost, low-maintenance aid to the problems of farming in arid areas.
Find more engineering trailblazers to inspire your students.
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…
Yesterday saw the ‘topping out’ of the James Dyson Building at the University of Cambridge. Following a Cambridge tradition, Tom Dyson poured a bottle of locally brewed beer onto the new roof. The James Dyson Building is set to house engineering researchers from early 2016. The Dyson Centre for Engineering Design at the University of Cambridge is also close to completion.…
The James Dyson Foundation has donated £12 million to Imperial College London, to create the Dyson School of Design Engineering. Technology leaders of the future The first new engineering department established at Imperial in two decades, the Dyson School will teach a four year Master of Engineering degree in Design Engineering from October 2015. The…
Every year, the James Dyson Foundation gives a bursary of £1,000 each to six Bournemouth University students, to help them prototype their final year projects. In exchange for this gift, the students carry out three or four workshops each in local secondary schools. They tell the children at these schools all about James Dyson’s story…
By 2020, there will be a shortage of 470,000 engineers in the UK. And so it’s more important than ever that we find ways to show young people that engineering isn’t just about hard hats and metalwork, but about changing the world for the better. Yesterday, the James Dyson Foundation took part in the engineering4teachers conference…
Last year, the James Dyson Foundation donated £8 million to the University of Cambridge, to provide bright young engineers with some of the world’s most advanced engineering facilities. Construction has begun on the four-storey James Dyson Building for Engineering – which will provide incubator units for intensive research and spaces for students to share and…
Cambridge is the third oldest university in the world, and one of the most highly regarded. Many of the heroes of modern engineering have passed through its halls, from Charles Oatley, inventor of the scanning electron microscope, to Frank Whittle, who pioneered the turbojet engineering. But despite this prestigious engineering past, the university lacks a…
Frustration. It might not seem like a positive trait, but it’s the first step to identifying a problem that needs solving. And problems lead to clever new designs. James Dyson Foundation bursary student Rob Bye spotted an opportunity during his final year at Brunel University. Students in the Gambia can travel long distances to school each…
PhD engineering students can usually be found in labs and workshops – digging deep into problem solving ideas that no one else has dreamt up before. But last week, the James Dyson Foundation PhD students were at Dyson HQ, exhibiting their trailblazing research to James Dyson and a team of engineers.
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.