Demystifying Engineering Design Through T-Shaped Systems Thinking

From Matt Bilsky

This talk was delivered to the graduate students and faculty of the Lehigh Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics department on 4/12/2018


Wouldn’t it be nice if …? A simple statement uttered on a daily basis regarding the mundane, repetitive, and difficult tasks in our lives that we wish to improve or eliminate. These needs and desires for products to make life better drive innovators to push the limits of current technologies and convert dreams into reality through engineering design. ABET, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, defines engineering design as: “The process of devising a system, component, or process to meet desired needs, specifications, codes, and standards within constraints such as health and safety, cost, ethics, policy, sustainability, constructability, and manufacturability. It is an iterative, creative, decision-making process in which the basic sciences, mathematics, and the engineering sciences are applied to convert resources optimally into solutions.” The practice and teaching of Engineering Design is one of the most elusive topics in many mechanical engineering departments. Defining the engineering skillset as making, measuring, and modeling, one may observe that many graduate programs, especially at the doctorial level, focus primarily on modeling and measuring with limited emphasis on making. This has led to difficulties recruiting faculty who can teach courses such as capstone and engineering design. This seminar will attempt to demystify engineering design for attendees by building upon the mindset, skillset, and Lehigh curriculum innovation frameworks discussed in the fall 2017 seminar “The Mindset of T-Shaped Systems Thinkers that Amplifies Their Skillset” (Available at: Examples from Dr. Bilsky’s ongoing work developing a novel snake-like robot will be used to demonstrate the Integrated Product Development Process (IPD) as a scaffold for engineering design. Low-cost and open-source experimental techniques created during the project will also be discussed towards an understanding of bootstrapping early stage research and maximizing research per dollar. Attendees with all levels of engineering design experience should leave with ideas and approaches they can implement in their own endeavors.

Recorded Talk