Multimodal Product Design: a Development of Engineering Design Models in Systematic Approach
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Having multiple modes on one product has been prevalent among modern technological products, such as washing machines that have washing and spinning modes and car transmissions with sport and economic modes. Multiple modes can enable products to convert from one form to another. From users’ perspective, modes satisfy different needs in different situations. From a designer’s perspective, the different needs must be interpreted in creating different system configurations. Designing a multimodal product requires accommodating users’ dynamic needs with a changeable configuration. Despite the prevalence of multimodal products on the market, engineering design lacks a common understanding of modality (defined as the property of having multiple modes) and a methodology that systematically guides the design process of multimodal systems. This research work aims to close these gaps. This thesis and its research are also dedicated to provoking the consideration of modality in future product design. The research approach of multimodal products originated from the design project of a swimming-climbing underwater robot introduced in Liu et al. (2013). However, its idea generation inspired the considerations of the general design methods for mechatronics products. It is believed that the latter research topic results in more impact on academia and industry. To ensure the research work is rooted in the most up to date research context, the research approach is based on Pahl and Beitz’s systematic design approach, which was gradually formed in the 1970s and intensively applied and developed until now. As Figure 1 demonstrates, the research consists of two major studies: conceptual design and product architecture design. Shown in the blue and green bars, the two studies cover three phases of Pahl and Beitz’s design process. The two studies and one case study correspond to the three referenced papers. Study 1 searches for the concept of mode in a broad scope of engineering sciences and then examines the findings in the existing design models used in the conceptual design phase. It focuses on the purpose of modality and the elaboration of functional models. This study mainly deals with the linkage between users’ needs and the functions that the product should fulfil. Study 2 continues the exploration of modality in the embodiment design phase. At the same time, it extends the knowledge achieved in Study 1 to investigate the interactions between multimodal systems. The study on product architecture also investigates how a multimodal system is decomposed into subsystems and how multimodal systems are used to construct a larger system. A qualitative case study that confirms the assertions about modality follows the two studies, examining the origin design task of a swimming-climbing underwater robot. At the end, an experiment is conducted on real designers to test and evaluate the proposed design methods. The entire research approach successfully answers three research questions (RQs): • RQ1: What is mode in a product? • RQ2: What are the significances of modality? • RQ3: How should the design processes involve the modality thinking? RQ1 exposes how designers should understand and describe modes of a product. A formal definition of mode is still missing, notwithstanding the phenomena of modality are pervasive in various contexts, and often interwoven with multi-functionality, multi-technology, users’ preference, requirements, reconfiguration, and so on. RQ2 scrutinizes the benefits of modality compared to single-modal products. RQ3 demands a generalized methodology so that designers in various disciplines can elaborate modes. Specific to the focused design phases, each of the two studies answers the three RQs from its own approach to the design process. The research work gives a comprehensive explanation of what a mode is and how multiple modes are designed. The introduced methodology ultimately complements the design theory.