Archive of research highlights

Plane and Aircraft Carrier

The EDC is a research centre for collaborative research between industry and the academic sector. Because we specialise in the design, development and performance of systems for the production and operation of complex products, our interests lie very much within the science of engineering design and its practical application to real world problems. Each month members of the EDC write a research highlight based on some aspect of engineering design. We hope you will find these of interest.

If you have a suggestion for a highlight topic, want to ask questions about any of these subjects or if you would like to contribute to this page then contact us.

The following are direct links to previous research highlights from this web site.


April: Integrated modelling for strategic planning


Strategic planning for sustainability requires complex systems to be modelled. Because of this complexity, it is unrealistic to develop new and comprehensive models for each of the numerous possible situations likely to be encountered. Many models already exist for component parts of a sustainable system, especially the technical components. Unfortunately, being developed at different times by different organisations, these component models exist in different forms and formats and are not especially designed to work together as components in a bigger system.


June: Modelling


The term modelling is ubiquitous in engineering. More commonly these days it refers to a computer simulation of some type. This highlight artcile will take a basic view of modelling then try to answer more probing questions such as what exactly a model is and what is it used for. Frequently in engineering modelling has to be justified in which case we can add 'why' to these questions as well. A model may be viewed as a simplified representation of an object, a system or an ideas, which is in some form other than the entity we wish to model.

May: Design rationale

Design rationale

To successfully describe design rationale we must first address and attempt to understand what we mean by design. Despite most people having an idea of what design is, this is not entirely a trivial question. Nevertheless we can first investigate some ideas relating to design and the process of design before considering the rationale of design. Burge (2002) states that the design process is: "... the set of steps, or activities, that take place in achieving the design goals, or objectives.

March: Managing and representing knowledge

Knowledge representation

Knowledge and definitions of what knowledge is has been the domain of philosophers and leading thinkers for millennia. The philosophical approach, while useful, is difficult to implement from an engineering point of view. To define and use knowledge effectively requires more explicit definitions and the scientific literature over the past decade has provided the basic tools to do this. Knowledge is the most important aspect of an engineering company - it is a primary asset. It defines the ability of that company to achieve certain tasks, which define its business goals.

February: Jobshop scheduling

Jobshops and scheduling

In manufacturing and assembly situations there is a practical limit to the resources available to the operator. For example manpower may be limited, there may only be a certain number of machines available and the machines may be expensive to operate either because of power consumption or manpower requirements. A particular process anticipated by a manufacturer will consist of a number of jobs which must be carried out in a certain order for successful completion.

January: Genetic Algorithms

Evolutionary methods

The term Genetic Algorithm (or GA) describes a set of methods, which can be used to optimise complex problems. As the name suggests, the processes employed by GAs are inspired by natural selection and genetic variation. To achieve this a GA uses a population of possible solutions to a problem and applies a series of processes to them. These processes mimic those in nature in so that subsequent populations are fitter and more adapted to their environment.


December: Multi-criteria decision making (MCDM)

Surface response

A multi-criteria decision problem usually involves selection of a number of alternatives to achieve an overall result based on the suitability of those alternatives against a set of criteria. The criteria will normally be weighted in terms of their importance to the decision maker, since criteria are rarely of equal importance. When a suitable process is applied to the problem, a rating of the alternatives can be formed into a rank, based on preferences.

November: Complexity

The Lorenz attractor

The increase in computer power over recent decades has allowed extensive modelling of systems to be carried out. This has revealed an unexpected level of complexity, which presents the modelling community with a number of dilemmas. The basic problem lies in our comprehension of what complexity is. This is not a simple question to answer and the results of investigations carried out so far are inconclusive.

October: Lifecycle design issues

Large made-to-order construction

Historically, traditional designs have paid little attention to the later parts of the lifecycle. This is understandable because such issues are not of immediate importance to most designers. One exception to this is manufacturing, but other issues that are often related to maintenance and end of life issues are frequently neglected.