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Center for e-Design

Research Focus

Created in 2003, the Center for E-Design uses information technology and systems engineering approaches to give companies an edge in the marketplace.

“Designing products is a very complex process that can be slow and burdensome, and not always informed,” says Janis Terpenny, a founding director of the center and professor of mechanical engineering and engineering education at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.  ‘You don’t want to make a product that’s dead in the water when it comes to market.”

The center--a research consortium of academia, industry and government--advises companies and develops solutions related to new design methods and technology and cost efficiencies. It also helps companies identify opportunities that can spawn the invention of new products.

 “Design is a process that responds to ideas and needs,” Terpenny adds. “It might well be driven by an opportunity that the market doesn’t yet know about. We’re trying to recognize those kinds of opportunities.”  

Research Benefits

The work of the center could have broad applications in a number of major industries, including the automotive, nautical and aerospace industries, as well as in the medical device and consumer products fields.

The center relies on the expertise of engineers who specialize in intelligent product and system design and development. Virginia Tech serves as the lead institution. Its academic partners include the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Central Florida.

A number of companies also have signed on, including Raytheon, which develops defense and global security systems; Respironics, which manufactures sleep apnea equipment; Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, which makes tires for cars, trucks, farm and racing vehicles, ATVs, and aviation; Parametric Technology Corporation, which develops, markets and supports software for product development; and Virtual e3D, which converts two-dimensional products into three-dimensional ones.

“Many companies have had products around for a long time, and want to re-engineer them,” Terpenny says.

One way is through encouraging a “product families” approach, that is, creating product lines—for example, coffee makers—that use one or more of the same components, such as warming plates, in all devices while allowing add-ons that make some of the machines more sophisticated. 

The center also is working on methods to deal with obsolescence.  “There might be ships and planes around for decades, with sophisticated systems that involve radar and cameras that become obsolete,” Terpenny says.  “The government and defense contractors spend a lot of money chasing down these problems, trying to fix them or find new parts. We are trying to find strategies that will help extend products—not just in the defense industry, but in all the products we use as consumers.”  

The center has established a repository of information—essentially a large database—to collect and share expertise, so that accumulated design, manufacture and technology knowledge is never lost.

 Education & Outreach

The research efforts of the center serve as a catalyst to enhance undergraduate and graduate curricula within engineering and computer science programs. Courses on e-design and realization of engineered products and systems give students from multiple universities and different disciplines knowledge of and expertise in the design of complex, mechanically-engineered products and systems. Educational endeavors ensure that the center produces quality engineers and computer scientists prepared for the advanced technical workforce.

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  • photo montage including rocket take-off, jet aircraft, ship and sedan automobile.
The center’s work has applications in a number of major industries.
Center for e-Design