Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Mechanical Engineering


Benchmarking in Design Projects: Lessons Learned from a Sophomore Design Course This paper presents some of the lessons learned from a sophomore design course offered at one of the major universities in the United States. This course is developed to provide realistic design, machining and mechatronics experiences to mechanical engineering sophomores. As apart of this course, the students are required to generate ideas for solving a real-life design problem. The objective of this study is to identify the influences of benchmarking products on the final concepts generated by student designers. Literature shows that designers, while solving open-ended design problems, tend to copy features from any examples available to them, a phenomenon known as “design fixation.” This paper studies the benchmarking products and their effect on student-generated designs for a cake transportation problem. The challenge is to devise a method to safely transport large cakes from a bakery to the location of their final use.The design process includes customer needs understanding, researching on existing designs,quality function deployment, functional decomposition, concept generation and the selection of a final design. At the end of the project, the students are required to present a final design and four alternate feasible concepts. Students work on this project as teams of three or four. For this particular design problem, there is a finite set of existing products that the students can benchmark and these products possess their own disadvantages, necessitating a new design. For the purpose of this study, the final reports from 50 design teams are collected and analyzed for the presence of features from the benchmarking products. The working principles of the concepts are identified and then they are broken down to the level of individual features. These principles and features are compared against those from the benchmarking products. It is observed that while many teams identified and used the abstract working principles of the benchmarking products, many of them also copied the surface features in their designs. While fixation to the abstract working principles of the benchmarking products can lead to working designs, it hinders the generation of alternate design concepts. In many cases, students restricted their solutions to the variations of the benchmarking products instead of exploring the solution-space any further.The fixation to surface features often leads to unnecessary design features in the final concepts,which may lead to added cost for the product. This shows that current engineering design curricula needs to provide additional guidance to students so that they can avoid fixation to those products. The paper also summarizes some suggestions to teach design courses while avoiding fixation to the benchmarking products.


© 2014 American Society for Engineering Education. This article originally appeared in the Conference Proceedings of ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition and can be found online at this link.