Mechanical Engineering Q&A
You can tell a lot about a product by the way it feels the first time you pick it up. End-users interact heavily with the mechanical aspects of electronics, especially handheld electronics, making mechanical engineering a key component of our electronic design services. We also offer mechanical engineering services for purely mechanical designs.
We provide our clients with mechanical analysis, mechanical system design, optical system design, robotics design, hydraulic and pneumatic system design, parts/component design, and prototype design and production.
Our goal is to design testable, reliable, manufacturable products, using advanced 3D modeling, system analysis, and innovative design. Our purpose is to solve mechanical problems for our clients and help them on their way to success.
Our engineers are familiar with proven and cutting-edge manufacturing techniques and strive to design products that can be easily manufactured.
We use Solidworks® software as our main mechanical engineering platform.
Why do I need more than an industrial designer?
Mechanical engineering and industrial design are very similar, but they differ in function. Industrial designers develop aesthetically pleasing designs that can be useful. Mechanical engineers take those designs and make them mechanically sound.
VPI's Mechanical engineers take several factors into consideration when designing a product including:
- Environment - The conditions the design will be subjected to because of its surroundings (Heat, cold, dust, water, sand, radiation).
- Application/Use - This factor considers how the design will be used. For example, a hammer would need to be designed differently than a feather duster.
- Thermal Effects - Thermal effects can include temperatures created by the design's environment, but also can be produced by the design itself. Some products require thermal analysis to ensure that the heat is managed appropriately.
- Human Factors - When engineers consider human factors they must account for intended and unintended effects that the product may have on the end-user. Great products are easy to use, ergonomic, intuitive, and safe.
- EMI/EMC - Mechanical engineers create designs that account for electromagnetic interference (EMI) and electromagnetic compatibility (EMC). Designs that do not account for this can produce harmful electromagnetic noise or experience problems caused by noise from other electronic devices. Electronic designs must comply with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), conformité européenne CE, Industry Canada, and/or other regulations that dictate the amount of noise they can produce and how resistant they must be to other electromagnetic noise. This is called electromagnetic conformity (EMC). Mechanical engineers design measures that help designs conform to regulations. VPI also has certification and testing capabilities for EMI and EMC. To learn more, visit our Laboratories page.
Why is design for manufacturing important?
Design for Manufacturability
Designing products for manufacturing is sometimes what sets mechanical engineering apart from mechanical or industrial designers. Mechanical designs can be aesthetically pleasing, but they must also be manufacturable. Current manufacturing technologies can produce incredible results, but there are limits. Knowing those capabilities and limits allows an engineer to choose appropriate methods for component fabrication. Our engineers are familiar with proven and cutting-edge manufacturing techniques and can create designs that are compatible with them. Production costs and impacts to a products bill of materials (BoM) are also taken into consideration, which, if not properly managed can be prohibitive.
Machining is a subtractive manufacturing process, which means a solid piece of material is cut into the desired shape. Machining is a traditional manufacturing technique and current technologies allow for quick turnaround times.
VPI has experienced engineers who design CAD models that can then be sent off to reputable machine shops that will produce the part you need.
A few common cutting techniques include die, laser, water jet, and plasma cutting. Laser cutting and plasma cutting use heat to melt the material they are cutting. Laser cutting uses concentrated light energy to melt materials. Plasma cutters use a combination of electrical heat and compressed air to heat and then remove material. Water jet cutting uses a thin, high-pressure stream of water to blast through the desired material. Our engineers can help you choose the correct cutting process for your project.
Additive Manufacturing includes a variety of modern manufacturing techniques that have become possible through recent technology.
One of the first techniques that come to mind, related to additive manufacturing is 3D printing. It has become popular since 3D printers are relatively inexpensive and readily available to the public.
Other additive manufacturing techniques include fused deposition modeling (FDM), stereolithography (SLA), direct metal deposition (DMD), and selective laser sintering (SLS).
Casting is often used to produce metal components. It is similar to injection molding in that molten material is poured into a form.
Stamping uses extreme pressure to form components. It is an efficient process and can be used for high-volume production runs.
Injection molding is a commonly used manufacturing technique that produces precision-formed components. The process involves injecting molten material into a form, then letting it cool and harden into the desired shape. It is an effective technique for mass-producing components from easily melted materials like plastics.
VPI's engineers carefully select the materials used both for the product and for the mold. A mold's composition varies based on the number of components that will be produced using it, the material that will be injected into it, and your budget. More durable molds tend to be more expensive, but they are not always necessary if only a few components are needed.
How do I pick the right material for my product?
Selecting the right materials to use for your project can be difficult. Today's technology offers manufacturers an almost unlimited number of materials.
Our engineers work with and research materials daily. They have the capabilities to select materials that will perform correctly for any design. They choose materials based on the fundamental mechanical engineering factors discussed listed here: environment, application/use, thermal effects, human factors, EMI/EMC compliance.
Some of the major factors considered in materials selection are strength, wear and corrosion resistance, thermal properties, UV stability, and optical properties.
Types of Materials
We work with standard and exotic metals, thermoplastics, elastomers, and composites. These materials have their advantages and disadvantages. Metals tend to be hard and resistant to environmental factors, but they are heavier than other materials. Composites like carbon fiber can be lighter and stronger than other materials, but more expensive. Our engineers choose materials that fit each design's need as well as your budget.
Another important factor in materials selection is finishing. Finishes can alter and/or enhance a design's look, feel, and performance. They can be purely cosmetic or essential for strength and corrosion resistance. Typical finishes include coatings, plating, and surface treatments.
What types of analysis are available through mechanical engineers?
Some designs can be analyzed using simple formulas. Others require detailed analysis, simulation, and testing. VPI Engineering conducts static, dynamic (drop, shock, and vibration), thermal analyses, simulations, and testing. The results of which allow our Engineers to create designs that will hold up to the needs of our customers.
Static and Dynamic simulations are performed using finite element analysis (FEA). This process takes into account the physical characteristics of the design, the materials used, and the environment and loading related to normal use.
Thermal analysis is conducted using FEA and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) methods. These simulations allow our engineers to determine how heat impacts the design, how it is transferred within the design, and how the design is affected by internal and external fluids, such as flowing air or water.
How do I design an automated device?
Automation and motion control can be used in machinery, automotive applications, manufacturing, and other applications. Automation and motion control design includes designing products that use electric motors, hydraulics, pneumatics, and linear actuators.
When designing an automated device, engineers look at the device’s intended use and design based on the fundamental factors discussed earlier on this page, under ‘Why do I need more than an industrial designer?’.
We have experience creating devices using the following motors and their associated controllers.
- AC Brushless
- DC Brushed/Brushless
- Direct Drive
How are optics designed?
Optical systems require precision design and execution. Mechanical engineers create designs that utilize optical elements (lenses, apertures, filters, etc.) to create specific optical effects. The designs can also include precision machined or molded parts that house the optical elements so that their position and effectiveness aren’t compromised.
Why are 2D and 3D models important for product development?
One of the most important steps to developing a product's physical aspects is developing a realistic model. Using CAD systems, we create 3D models and 2D drawings for our clients. Models help them visualize their product before production and are used for manufacturing.
How do I develop a robot?
VPI's Robotics History
Sometimes when people picture robots, they think of humanoid machines that can perform multiple functions, but in reality, many robots are much simpler machines. VPI has a deep robotics history. We were formed in cooperation with an advanced robotics research center at Utah State University.
One of our first projects was the ODIS robot, which was an Omni-Directional robot used effectively by the U.S. military to inspect the undersides of vehicles for explosives.
If you’re planning on developing a robotic device, we can design the chassis, motor controls, robotic arms, and even integrate essential components like video/imaging sensors, radiation detection and identification sensors, chemical detection and identification sensors, and many others.