How to communicate product concept with a mechanical engineer

One day you may have a good product concept or invention idea in your mind. You want to develop it and take it to market-but how to do that? If your idea is about a physical product, you can read this article to understand the simple process.

You will find the first step is translating the product concept in your mind into a format that other humans or machines can use to build product-usually 3D models or 2D drawings. Unfortunately, you are not an engineer, then how do you start? The best way may be hiring an engineer to help you.

This article will tell you how to communicate your idea with a mechanical engineer. Of course, if your design concept is not a mechanical product, you can still get some useful information.

Technical drawing basics

First, you need to have some basic knowledge of technical drawing or technical sketch. “Sketching” usually means rough drawing or freehand drawing. “Drawing” generally means a professional drawing with dimensions produced by an engineer. Don’t worry about the understanding of the difference. We will treat “drawing” and “sketching” as one here. And we will just introduce technical drawing basics. You can read more on mit.edu.

Now let’s take a look at a simple engineering drawing. This mechanical drawing is generated by an engineer. I have removed some unnecessary information. You should try to understand it.

Note: In this mechanical drawing, the scale is 1:1. But it is various depending on the parts. Whatever scale it is, you should always add the actual dimensions that you need. That means usually you can ignore the scale when adding dimensions.

The default unit is mm in this engineering drawing. If you use a different unit in your technical drawing, you must specify that.

Communicate product concept through pictures or sketches

To present your product concept to an engineer or a design company, one of the best ways is to speak pictures or technical sketches, not only words.

The engineer needs to understand your requirement clearly, so you should try to prepare some necessary files.

If you can use simple programs, such as Paint, Autodesk sketch book, it will be a good start; If you don’t know how to use these programs, a free-hand technical sketch can work too.

In the technical drawing, the following main elements should be included.

 Product views

–Isometric view

 It is a little hard to draw the isometric view, so you can ignore this view if it is too difficult for you. Of course, it is very helpful;

–Front, Side, Top, Bottom, Section views

There should be some product views like this. It doesn’t mean you should include all the above views. For some simple parts, maybe 2~3 views are ok, such as the Front view, Side view, and Section view. It depends on your product.

General dimensions

There must be some main dimensions in your sketch. If you don’t know the exact dimensions, it is no problem. The engineer needs some rough dimensions to start, and then it is possible to modify them.

Note:    Sometimes you have an accurate vector file, such as DXF, AI format file, and you want the engineer to use that file without any modification. But you don’t show any dimension to the engineer. After you get the final files or physical objects, you may find the measurement is different from your thought.  Then you may think the engineer should have changed something. But usually it is not the truth. It is caused by different programs or scale issue-especially the scale. You thought your file is 1:1, and you should get a 1:1 part. But from the engineering perspective, it might not be 1:1. So the engineer needs to know one dimension at least to help check your files.

Critical dimensions

Sometimes there are certain dimensions that are very important. You are familiar with your product, but the engineer is not. So, you should tell the engineer which dimensions are critical.

Material

Now 3D printing is popular. Many product prototypes are manufactured by 3D printers. But the limitation is different between different materials. So, if you plan to 3D print your part, we need to ensure it is 3d printable for the selected material. You should tell the engineer what material you plan to use.

Manufacturing method

When you want to get some suggestions about your product, you should tell the engineer what manufacturing methods you plan to use. Usually the design will be different.

For example, for 3d printing, the 3d model must meet the 3d printing requirement; For CNC machining, injection molding or laser cutting, the design rule will be different.

Of course, if you don’t have any idea about that, it is no problem. You can communicate with the engineer. And they should have experience to help you.

Main function and assembly

If there are several parts that will be assembled together, it is best to introduce the function. And the engineer needs to know how to assemble them together too. That will be helpful when there are high accuracy parts. The engineer can add necessary tolerance to the parts when designing.

Communicate product concept through CAD models

There are some simple CAD programs. It is a good way to create simple 3D models. You don’t need to be skilled in these programs because that will be only used to show your product concept.

Communicate product concept through videos

Video is another way to describe your product. When you introduce your product concept, try to speak a little slowly. Because you don’t know whether the engineer can understand your language well and you don’t know what the engineer’s mother language is.

Communicate product concept though clay mock-ups

This is very helpful if you cannot provide simple 3D models. And when you describe your product in a video, it is very useful. Of course, you can also take some photos after making clay mock-ups.

Electronics Schematics

In your product, there may be some electrical parts, such as buttons, PCB, motor controller, etc.  If you plan to design PCB by yourself or by hiring an electrical engineer, it is another topic, and we won’t talk about that here.

For product prototype, we suggest you buy commercial products on the market. For example, Arduino boards, PLC, and so on. And if possible, you should tell the mechanical engineer the dimensions of electrical parts, and the engineer will leave spaces for these parts.

Sample sketches

The following is are simple samples to show you how to prepare a technical sketch.

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