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The role of the mechanical engineer in product design

World Bulletin Team

Professor Lau demonstrated several successful case studies
Professor Lau demonstrated several successful case studies

Professor Alan Kin-tak Lau explains how skilled mechanical engineers are often known as product designers – and how marketing just can’t be ignored. ​

Professor Lau, International Vice President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, was invited by the School of Aerospace Engineering and Applied Mechanics, and School of Design and Innovation, Tongji University, China to deliver a lecture entitled “Product Design – from Conceptual Ideas to a Marketable Product”.

To open his lecture, Professor Lau introduced the Institution and its recent development. He covered its international membership growth and outlined the contribution it makes to build up talent pools to support the growth of different engineering industries, their students and teaching staff.

One of his aims was to help connect engineers with the Institution. There are many people working in the field of mechanical engineering who may not immediately identify (because of their products or job titles) as mechanical engineers. Fifty people attended the lecture, including some product designers working in Shanghai.

Professor Lau demonstrated several successful case studies which showed how to integrate design, engineering and business knowledge to develop marketable products, such as modern hair dryers, smart phones, electric vehicles, and audio-video devices.

He stressed that the process for converting scientific discoveries and new technologies into useable products requires substantial efforts from mechanical engineers. Many mechanical engineers work in product design, although their title is perhaps ‘product designer’ or ‘product engineer’. However, the nature of their job is to combine their knowledge of engineering and design to create functional and marketable products.

Professor Lau said that, in fact, designing and fabricating new products cannot be achieved without the involvement of mechanical engineering knowledge or a combination of knowledge from different engineering disciplines.

Most small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in China have recruited a product designer who must be able to design mechanical systems to drive the function of a product. He or she should also have substantial experience in materials science and manufacturing processes. At manager level, a person should be able to identify the right markets and consider the global financial situation for launch. The development of entrepreneurship skills is vital for engineers to contribute to a successful organisation, which can take new products forward.

Marketing is normally the area that most engineers ignore. However, employing marketing strategies at the pre-design stage, as well as within the launch-to-market strategy, can help increase chances of commercial success.

The latest development of product life cycle management, the product design platform and industry 4.0 (the internet of things) were also introduced during Professor Lau’s lecture. Many enterprises in the Asia Pacific Region have already invested in these new technologies to enhance the efficiency of their product manufacturing processes and diversity of product types.


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