Engineering design - action plan

Headline objective for the action plan

To increase the value of the research area and the number of grants through a managed call and a better definition of Engineering design.

What is the issue / problem with the Research Area which you need to solve?

The following criteria were highlighted by the Monitoring Portfolio Evolution (MPE) exercise:

  • The Engineering design portfolio has decreased despite being identified as a maintain area. There has been a reduction from £42.2 million (April 2011) to £18.8 million (April 2014).
  • The desired strategy for the area is not being achieved sufficiently with one successful fellowship application in four years and a reduced number of applications and successful applications through standard mode.

What actions are you going to take to address the issue / problem?

There are three initial actions planned to address this issue:

This will be undertaken with further engagement and discussions with the expert community to understand the underlying reasons for the reduction. With regards to defining the area, some key areas to consider and define are:

As well as considering what is included and required in the definition of Engineering design it is necessary and important to consider what is not included (this is particularly important in defining the scope of any activity or calls within this area).

Following on from the discussions at the SATs conference, engaging with the community and the following Manufacturing the Future SAT meeting, it was proposed that a feasibility type call would be beneficial activity in this area. This would undertake the audition approach to stimulate a diverse set of feasibility projects around the area of “Design the Future” as this approach makes it easier for a wide range of researchers to come forward with ideas, which are assessed using panel auditions and a final interview. This type of activity makes the peer review process more accessible for innovative concept ideas with questioning and discussion of the idea rather than more formally created proposals. It allows for researchers not traditionally within this research area to engage and come forward with creative ideas.

“Design the Future” aims to support research to explore:

This style of managed call for feasibility studies aims to stimulate applications in standard mode following on from successful feasibility studies.

As well as the reduction in the portfolio there is also a decline in the number of researchers in this field. Manufacturing the Future currently supports one Early Career Fellow in this area but there is little activity outside of this. As a result Manufacturing the Future is addressing the definition of the priorities for the next fellowship call. This will look into the issues around defining the wider area of Engineering design and try and encourage more ‘early career researchers’ to engage and apply.

  1. Portfolio analysis and defining of Engineering design
    • Differences between Engineering design and product design (there should be more of an emphasis on Engineering design but the focus seems to be on product design)
    • What are the intellectual challenges and research requirements in Engineering design?
    • What other areas of science need to be included and integrated into Engineering design?
    • Is design an applied art or an Engineering technology?
    • What is design in the context of Manufacturing?
    • How does Engineering design interact across themes?
    • Design tools for manufacturing
    • How will designers use new technologies?
    • Where does the social science and human factors relate to this research area?
  2. Managed Call
    • How engineering design can accelerate the adoption of new materials, new processes and new technologies
    • How engineering design can be more creative, more effective and allow for new design paradigms
    • How engineering design is conducted within organisational and manufacturing contexts
    • How engineering designers engage with users and other stakeholders.
  3. Fellowships

What evidence / advice will you use to input to the action plan?

Manufacturing the Future ran a workshop in Visions of Design in 2010 to stimulate interest in Engineering Design and the report may be found here: Engineering Visions in Design workshop report July 2010.

Prior to and following the SATs conference the Manufacturing the Future theme has engaged with the experts within the community. Further advice has also been sought from the SAT at a subsequent SAT meeting. Conversations with the community have highlighted other workshops confirming some of the issues around the definition and scope of the area of “Engineering Design”, adding that the confusion within the community made peer review difficult with no consensus as to what should be included and supported.

Who will deliver each action / who needs to be involved in delivering the actions?

The EPSRC Manufacturing the Future theme will primarily deliver the action plan, but will need to work with other related themes including Engineering, ICT, Digital economy and Mathematics.

What are your milestones / review points?

There will be a range of review points throughout the call:

  • The call closing date will allow consideration of the amount of interest in the call and the types of ideas generated
  • At the interviews the effectiveness of the intervention can be further reviewed through the quality and development of the ideas selected
  • The feasibility studies are expected to be up to 18 months in duration so a significant review point would be planned at the end of the grants to evaluate the success of the intervention.

Alongside the managed call the re-defining of the fellowship priorities and definitions may be reviewed at various stages to determine if there has been an effect on the number of applications.

What does success look like / how will you know your actions have addressed the issue / problem?

  • An increase in the number of grants and value within the Engineering design portfolio
  • Increased applications and successful applications for fellowships in Engineering design
  • An increased number of applications (and successful applications) through standard mode.

What are you contingency plans if your actions are unsuccessful?

If the above methods are unsuccessful at generating interest and applications in the research area of Engineering design a more detailed and extensive review is required. This review will have to answer why the decline in the portfolio is continuous and what further actions EPSRC could take to address this.