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The Engineering Approach to Problem Solving

• Real-world problems: unstructured and open-ended.

• Not all of the required data are known or available - need to sort
information and identify which is important to solve the problem.

• Engineers will discover that a problem may have several solution

alternatives – a preferred one is selected.

• Choosing solution: Weigh the conflicting consequences of an

engineering action select the best solution which meet the needs and
desires of the employer, client or the public.

The Engineering Method

• The engineering method of approaching and solving problems differs

greatly from that of most other professionals.

• Engineers are trained to think in analytical and objective terms and to

approach problems methodically and systematically.

What is Creativity?

• General definition: mental processes that lead to ideas, solutions,

conceptualizations, theories, artistic forms or products that are
unique and novel.
Engineering design method

Identification of the problem

Gathering needed information

Searching for creative solutions

Stepping from ideation to preliminary designs

(including modeling )

Evaluation and selection of preferred solution

Preparation of reports, plans and specifications

Implementation of the design

Identification of Problem
• An incorrect or improper definition of the problem will cause the engineer
to waste time and may lead to an inappropriate or incorrect solution.

A problem properly defined is a problem partially solved. To

state the problem correctly is a major step toward its solution

• The needs to be satisfied should be broadly defined and distinguished

from possible solutions.

• The problem should be defined in objective terms.

Gathering Needed Information

• This phase involves gathering and evaluating information that is already


• The engineer begins to gather information and data needed to solve the
problem: physical measurements, maps, results of laboratory
experiments, patents, results of opinion surveys or any other types
of information.

Searching for Creative Solutions

• After the preparative steps is complete, the engineer is ready to identify

the creative solutions.

• Several operational techniques may be used to help a group or individual

to produce original ideas – it designed to overcome obstacles to creative

• Examples of techniques:
 Brainstorming
 Checklist
 Attribute listing
 Forced relationship techniques
 Morphological analysis
Stepping from Ideation to Preliminary Designs

• This is the heart of the design process - it relies most on experiences and
engineering judgment.

• Unworkable ideas are discarded; promising ideas are molded and

modified to form workable plans and designs – It requires many decisions
to be made for the alternative layouts, configurations, materials,
dimensions and other specifications.

• Conceptual sketches, preliminary plans and material specifications are

needed to be prepared

• Preliminary designs may evolve through analysis and synthesis.

• To facilitate the design process, engineer often rely on models such as :

 Analytical or mathematical models
 Simulation models
 Physical models

Evaluation and Selection of Preferred Solution

• As the engineering design process develops, the engineer may evaluate

again and again alternate ways of solving the problem at hand.

• Feedback, modification and evaluation may occur repetitively as the

device or system evolves from concept to final design.

• The evaluation based on any number of factors such as product, safety,

cost, reliability and consumer acceptability (depends on the nature of the

• The most straightforward way to evaluate a product is to develop a

prototype and simply test it in operation.
Preparation of Reports, Plans and Specifications

• After the preferred design has been selected, it must be

discussed/explained to those who will approve it, support it and translate it
into reality.

• This communication may be in the form of engineering report or a set of

plans and specifications.

• Engineering reports are usually sent to a client or to a supervisor.

• Plans and specifications: detail descriptions of the design as reference for

the contractor to construct it.

Implementation of the Design

• The final phase of the design process is implementation and construction

of the process.

• Engineer must oversee and supervise the construction of the engineered


Differences in the Way People Think

• There is a great variability in the way people think and learn and
approach problem solving – especially through experience.

• Herrmann developed a four-quadrant model of preferred modes of

knowing and brain dominances.

Hindrances/Obstacles to Problem Solving

• Engineer should be aware of certain conditions of the mind that can hinder
effective problem solving.

• One such condition is known to physiologists as fixation or mental set.

Characteristics of Creative People

• Children who are raised in a diversified and stimulating home

• Who experience unusual situations.
• Who are exposed to a wide range of ideas.
• Children liked school and did well.
• Developed excellent work habits.
• Voracious readers.
• Happier with books than with people.
• Curious

The Creative Process

Recognition of the need or problem

A period of intense concentration

A period of relaxation or incubation

The illumination when the solution suddenly and

spontaneously appears

The evaluation or verification of the solution

Overcoming Obstacles to Creative Thinking

Creative thinking requires the use of both thinking modes – only at different times
during the thinking process. Specifically, the right brain helps us to avoid rigid,
linear thinking so that we can concentrate on developing ideas, while the left
brain helps us to evaluate these ideas and test them against reality….Both brain
hemispheres need to work in harmony if we are to produce creative solutions to
our problems.

Specific actions and attitudes to overcome obstacles to creative thinking


• Avoid placing unnecessary constraints on the problem.

• Search for different ways to view the problem, avoiding preconceived
beliefs and stereotypical thinking.
• Recognize that there are non-engineering solutions to many problems.
Consider approaches that might be used by other disciplines.
• Most creative thought involves putting experiences and thoughts into new
patterns and arrangements. Look therefore for relationships that are
remote and solutions that are unusual and nontraditional.
• Divide complex problems into manageable parts and concentrate on
solving one part at a time.
• After periods of intensive concentration, allow time for incubation.
• Be open for a variety of problem-solving strategies.