What-if design

In the ever-increasing global market designers are facing an ever-decreasing time to market. Furthermore it is not enough to simply design a sound product nowadays. Design engineers must also consider factors affecting the manufacturability, demand, marketing, transport and maintenance of the completed product. Furthermore the designing accounts for 7% of the whole product costs while it is responsible for 65% of its potential decrease, the reason for this is that the design stage is decisive about the main cost constituents. A product ideally needs to be useful and effective, cheap or cost effective to manufacture, easily distributed or transported and finally easily disposed of or recycled at the end of its life.

Nowadays concurrent or simultaneous engineering tries to incorporate life-cycle issues in design. Concurrent engineering can be seen as the life-cycle view of a product through all design stages. Through addressing life cycle issues early in the design process, it is intended to gain cost and time to market benefits. Concurrent engineering brings together a design team with the appropriate combination of specialist expertise. In this way all elements of the product life cycle can be considered early in the design process.

Every product has a life cycle, which is defined as the set of phases, from its conception to its disposal. Life-cycle design is about considering the impact of each phase on the following phases in the life cycle. The life cycle of a product primarily consists of the following five phases:








Product use



Design for X (DFX) is one of the most effective approaches to implement concurrent engineering. A number of rules and points of attention for manufacturing, assembly, inspectability, serviceability, recyclability, etc. have been developed which reflect the different life cycle aspects of a product and to aid the designers in their decision making process.

Although concurrent engineering is bringing together this design team, usually a lot of design aspects (like manufacturability, costs, serviceability, environmental impact, transportability, etc..) are not addressed simultaneously but serially. Software modules are available for specific aspects. E.g. the geometry is determined first in SolidWorks and then the manufacturability is checked through some CAPP functionality in Camworks, subsequently the cost price is established by using the local cost price estimation Excel sheet and the environmental impact is determined through SimaPro by an environmental life cycle analyst.

The research in 'What if design' tries to establish insights in relationships between these design aspects in order to address multiple design aspects at once.

These insights might be used to develop a software tool which helps a designer at establishing and structuring all the consequences of a certain design change. A software tool which integrates all the software tools which are available to determine design aspects as manufacturability, costs, environment impact, serviceability, maintainability, used materials in relation to each other.


Tom Vaneker

University of Twente

Department of Mechanical Engineering

Design, Production and Management group

P.O. Box 217

7500 AE Enschede

The Netherlands