Development of an Educational Software Tool to Support Mechanics Modeling during the Design Process

DS 69: Proceedings of E&PDE 2011, the 13th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education, London, UK, 08.-09.09.2011

Year: 2011
Editor: Kovacevic, Ahmed, Ion, William, McMahon, Chris, Buck, Lyndon and Hogarth, Peter
Author: Heidweiller, Anton Jozef; van der Voort, Eric; Wisse, Gerald
Series: E&PDE
Section: Design Teaching Environment 3
Page(s): 701-706


The paper evaluates an online modelling tool (developments costs were about 210,000 euro), that has been developed three years ago [1,2]. Aim of the tool is to show students how to apply a structured modelling approach, focused on strength and stiffness analysis, as part of the design process. It is crucial that academic design students learn to relate their theoretical knowledge with design practice, but many of them try to avoid that and get stuck in ‘formula picking strategies’ and carrying out routine calculations without relating their findings to the real world. The tool aims to replace the tutor by asking the relevant questions. The student must do the work. The tool is not an expert system and does not know “the only correct answer”, but it provides the student with a context-sensitive help. The tool starts with the actual design situation. It helps the student to define relevant real life situations for strength and stiffness analysis. After that it guides the student through the selection of a particular situation, the translation to a mechanics model and subsequently a mathematical model, the simulation, and finally the evaluation including calibration. Of course a tutor can do that too, but he needs very much time to coach hundreds of students through all these steps, because each student may follow his own design track. In addition, a software tool can provide extra information and is any time available. During the last three years, the tool has been used in the course Technological Product Optimization by about 400 students a year. Although the tool is still being improved, the following conclusions can be drawn so far. Students showed there ability to apply mechanics modelling in a structured way during a design process at least four times during the course. This was a strong improvement compared to the collection of sums that students, in general, handed in earlier. However, students appeared to be quite unsure regarding the handling of modelling simplifications in the design course that followed on the course Technological Product Optimization. But at least they had become aware of the necessity of making simplifications and evaluating the effect on the outcome. - The tool generated a structured report and provided the teacher with easy-access on student’s progress. The great amount of time that tutors otherwise needed to figure out student’s intention was considerably reduced. - The tool aims to offer a user-friendly interface that activates, supports and motivates students in applying their engineering theoretical knowledge. However, quite some students didn’t have a positive opinion about the user-friendliness of the tool. This was mainly due to misinterpretation of questions, or more precisely, careless reading of students. However, the aim is to get design engineering students enthusiastic about the modelling process and we will try to improve the communication between tool and student.
[1] Van der Voort, E., Heidweiller, A., Coninx, K. and De Deugd, H., EPDE9, 2007.
[2] Van der Voort, E., Heidweiller, A., Coninx, K., EPDE10, Barcelona, 2008.

Keywords: Coaching tool, modelling, engineering design, mechanics of materials


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