Approach to a Design
When approaching a design project, several factors are of paramount importance. In my experience the most important factor is understanding what the customer wants. Many engineers approach a design thinking about what the customer needs. These may sound like similar philosophies, but they are very different.
I have seen many designs that were functional, technically correct, code compliant, even elegant and hated by the customer. Engineers are highly trained and experienced individuals that are often the expert in a particular field. They inherently know the best solution to a problem and that is what they deliver in a design package.
Knowing the best solution should only be the start of the design process. Engineers should always ask themselves three questions after the design solution is apparent. First, is my design something I can construct? Second, is my design user friendly? And last, can I maintain the equipment as designed?
Now you have a better understanding on where you want to go with your design, you need to take your design ideas to the customer. This is the most critical part of the design process.
Talk to the operators that will be using your design. Let them know what components you are planning to use. They may have operating experience you are not aware of that would impact the type of component or manufacturer selected for the project.
Talk to the maintenance personnel. Let them know you are concerned about issues they may have with the current design if the project is a retrofit project. Ask them about spare parts inventory. If possible try to incorporate parts they are currently stocking into your design.
Talk to the client’s construction engineers or construction personnel about the proposed project. See if there are any constructability issues from past projects that could serve as “lessons learned” that should be incorporated into the design. See if there are any site conditions that were not apparent during site walk downs.
Talking with operations, maintenance and construction personnel will give them a sense of ownership in the design process and they will be your ally as the design progresses. In my experience these personnel are rarely spoken to and often find out what is being constructed after the construction is well under way.
Finally talk to the same people after the project is complete to determine if there were any issues with the design that could be improved upon. Tell them that you always want to improve on your designs.
By using the above approach to design, you will become the engineer that is in their corner and the chances for repeat business increases. You will also now have someone that will be a good source of information for future design projects or future site plans.