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Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing




Special Issue 03


Cambridge University Press


This paper presents a preliminary comparison between the role of computer-aided design (CAD) and sketching in engineering through a case study of a senior design project and interviews with industry and academia. The design team consisted of four senior level mechanical engineering students each with less than 1 year of professional experience are observed while completing an industry sponsored mechanical engineering capstone design project across a 17 week semester. Factors investigated include what CAD tools are used, when in the design process they are implemented, the justification for their use from the students' perspectives, the actual knowledge gained from their use, the impact on the final designed artifact, and the contributions of any sketches generated. At each design step, comparisons are made between CAD and sketching. The students implemented CAD tools at the onset of the project, generally failing to realize gains in design efficiency or effectiveness in the early conceptual phases of the design process. As the design became more concrete, the team was able to recognize clear gains in both efficiency and effectiveness through the use of computer assisted design programs. This study is augmented by interviews with novice and experienced industry users and academic instructors to align the trends observed in the case study with industry practice and educational emphasis. A disconnect in the perceived capability of CAD tools was found between novice and experienced user groups. Opinions on the importance of sketching skills differed between novice educators and novice industry professionals, suggesting that there is a change of opinion as to the importance of sketching formed when recent graduates transition from academia to industry. The results suggest that there is a need to emphasize the importance of sketching and a deeper understanding as to the true utility of CAD tools at each stage of the design process.


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