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Research and Project Development - How to do it correctly (ART514E)

Gone are the days when a new idea could easily be implemented into an innovative product without a coherent procedure and development according to well-established rules. Early innovators who simply mixed things up in a test tube to see if they could get anything new, or simply put together a few mechanical parts in a new arrangement or components in a simple circuit that did not exist. All this was with the days numbered. Creating new projects requires research and development according to well-established rules. In this article, we will deal with them.

For the development of any project, it is necessary to use an appropriate method that leads to coherent and practical results, besides helping in the formation of technical or scientific thinking. In this article, we focus on the methodologies adopted and how to use them appropriately in developing a new project or trying to discover something new in the scientific field.

In elementary and high schools, in addition to technical courses, when it comes to technology education according to the STEM and BNCC (National Common Curricular Base, in Brazil) recommendations, it is essential to pay special attention to the two methodologies which can be adopted nowadays: scientific methodology and engineering methodology.

This is also true for the makers, engineers or entrepreneurs who have a development lab where they create new products, new applications for commercial purposes or simply something new for their own use.

The methodologies not only describe how the problem is addressed, but also all the steps that must be taken to solve and document it. In particular, this documentation is very important because it reports the several steps, enabling queries, error correction lapses, or adopting new approaches.

In the following, focusing mainly on research and development (R&D, Research and Development), we will deal with the two methods we cited. These methods are vitally important when developing a research plan for a company, whether it is characterizing or evaluating new material or creating new products.

In fact, the two methods we will describe, the scientific method and the engineering method, go together and eventually depend on each other, or even just one of them can be used depending on the purpose of the work.

What happens is that technology depends on science and so we have three possible situations.

 

a) We are looking for proof of a scientific principle or a description of a new phenomenon which may eventually be used in a new product. We are not interested in the product, i.e., the application in technology. In this case, what we are doing is a scientific research paper. The scientific method applies in this case.

b) We will develop an application or product which uses a well established scientific principle. We need not then do scientific research that leads to the knowledge we need to apply in technology. In this case, the engineering method is sufficient to get what we want.

c) We are trying to develop a product that uses unproven scientific principles. We then need to start from the beginning, initially with a research which uses the scientific method to verify that the principle we intend to use is valid in our product and only then develop the technological application using the engineering method.

 

Confusion between the two methods is very common and the choice of methodology can be negatively affected by this. Try to develop a product that uses an unproven scientific principle or try to understand one using the wrong technology.

 

Scientific or Engineering Method

When a project aims to understand human nature or activities by obtaining and applying a set of scientific knowledge, that project is a science project. On the other hand, when a project uses scientific knowledge to apply it to applications, things, or processes that aim to provide resources which facilitate or assist in human activities, this is an engineering project.

For example, a work aimed at identifying new life forms or discovering new behaviors for a particular kind of material is a scientific project. On the other hand, a project that aims to use new (vegetable) life forms in product creation or that aims to develop machines with new materials is an engineering project.

The approach to research in both cases is different, leading to the engineering methods and scientific methods that we detail below. In all cases, however, it is critical that the makers, researchers or engineers have complete documentation of everything they do. For this purpose, we adopt what is commonly referred to as a “logbook” where ideas, project sketches, results of work steps are noted.

In our articles The Word is Innovation and Why the Technologist Should Study Philosophy, in addition to others, we deal with some basic procedures in material selection, coherent and logical problem analysis, and others involving research and project development.

 

The Scientific Method

First step:

The first step in approaching a problem by the scientific method is to state the problem or statement. To do this, three basic questions must be answered:

What is the purpose or objective of the project?

Can I detail exactly what I intend to do or discover? What am I trying to find out?

Are there any scientific questions that the project aims to answer? What is it?

 

Second step:

Once the previous three questions have been answered, the next step is to make a hypothesis. This hypothesis is a breakdown of how the project will work to reach the proposed objective. For this, there are also three questions that must be answered:

How can the project arrive at the demonstration of the objective?

Is it possible to get an idea of the results that will be obtained during the experimentation phases?

Is it possible to prove what you want through the results of the experiments? Why and how?

 

An important point to note at this stage of the project is that the procedure for proving the hypotheses must be such that it can be repeated in exactly the same way, simply by consulting the way it was done and using the same materials under the same conditions.

 

Used material

Before starting a project, it is important to list the materials used, with their detailed characteristics, so that in the event of repeated experiments leading to the reported results, they can be easily obtained.

 

Observation and Analysis

Observations of everything that occurs during all phases of the project should be noted in detail. If possible, you can even include photos in this documentation. These photos will be useful in a presentation of the paper or even in the report.

Once all observations are made and noted, you will need to analyze them. Explanations should then be given of everything that occurred during the experiment, from the procedures to perform to the data obtained.

It is from this moment that the data can be gathered coherently to reinforce the conclusions, leading to the expected results.

 

Conclusion

With all the data gathered and analyzed, it is then possible to reach the conclusions that will lead to the confirmation of the statements made in the first item, that is, to the confirmation of the hypothesis. At this point, there are still some important points which can be included. One of them is to add value to the project, explaining its importance to science and secondly the proposition of new experiments to advance the studies on the proposed hypothesis or even to reinforce its validity.

 

The Engineering Method

At this point, we have a more practical aspect of a project development, as it leads to an immediate application, with the creation of devices or technologies which can be used for practical purposes, as explained at the beginning of the article.

In the engineering method, the development stages of a project have some differences in relation to the scientific method. These steps are basically as follows:

 

Justify the project needs

For this, the project researchers or developers must look at the world around them and focus on the problem they want to solve, always taking into account its needs, any improvements in relation to what already exists and a very important point nowadays: the impact this can have on the environment and society itself.

 

Problem Definition

Once there is a need for some kind of engineering solution to be given to a problem, this problem must be clearly defined. To do this, it will be important to answer the following questions:

Is it possible to define the problem?

How to accurately describe its placement with a specific form?

Is the project based on proven scientific foundations?

 

Looking for the solution

Once the problem is precisely defined with its location within the available scientific and technological possibilities, an objective approach to the possible solutions it should have should be started. For this, it will be necessary to propose solutions which can solve and analyze them, checking their possibilities, their strengths and weaknesses and also their impact on the environment and society.

As the project has to be carried out in a practical way, it will be necessary to evaluate any difficulties which may occur in its implementation, for example the use of expensive or inaccessible materials, experiments in remote or inaccessible places, etc.

An interesting idea would be to list all possible solutions, giving them a score from 0 to 5 in relation to their feasibility. The alternative with the highest sum of points would be the most viable (as long as it has no item to disqualify it - grade 0, for example).

 

Selecting the Best Alternative

After that, after an evaluation of the possible solutions, you can select the one that is best and logical, justifying your choice concisely. The logbook is of utmost importance to note all of this.

 

The chosen solution should then be detailed and presented to the researcher or group in charge of its implementation.

 

Implementation

The implementation consists of manufacturing one or more prototypes of the solution so that it can be made available for testing, verification and use. This implementation should also be divided into stages according to the nature of the project. For example, in the case of a microcontrolled mechatronic design, you must separate the design and assembly stages from the electronics, the design stages from the mechanical, and finally have a third stage where they are joined together to work together.

On the electronics side, especially if the project is aimed at industrialization, special care should be taken with the availability of the components used for a long enough time that does not make the product obsolete before being manufactured. Companies such as Mouser Electronics (www.mouser.com) assist designers in this field by indicating whether or not the product of their choice has an appropriate lifespan or is not suitable for a new project.

 

Test

Once one or more prototypes of the adopted solution are assembled they need to be tested. For this purpose, a test plan should be designed to verify all possible weaknesses of the solution or to meet all projected design needs.

This is a critical phase that must be recorded in the smallest detail. It will be very important for further analysis.

 

Analysis and conclusion

Once the project has been tested, we can come to the conclusion that lets us know if everything we have done is approved or if some issues need to be resolved. Should problems occur, they should be analyzed and resolved with a subsequent return to testing.

If all problems have already been resolved, then, we can draw the final conclusion which should answer the following questions:

Did the project solve the proposed problem?

Is the project feasible in terms of practical application such as cost effectiveness, industrialization problems, acceptance, use, etc.?

Will it be possible to improve the project or develop new versions? In these new versions, what could be changed?

What must be done next to make the project a reality?

 

Conclusion

What we have seen shows very well the differences between the two approaches, and the article is especially aimed at those who want to do research, course conclusion work or develop a new product.

In engineering, the procedures are the same, but they must be more detailed and performed more carefully. However, the reader already has an idea of ??how to do research or develop an engineering project, with a high probability of success.

Add to all this a very important point that is self-criticism: before starting a project ask yourself: Am I really prepared to do it? Do I have all the necessary knowledge for this? Otherwise where should I look for the information I need and with the help of whom should I count on?

Henry Ford, who had a very simple background, only attended elementary school, once argued about the reason for his success, replied that “he did not need specific knowledge on all subjects. Far more important than knowing how to solve a problem was knowing who could do it the best way possible and hiring this person for it.”

Ford surrounded himself with the leading experts on every subject important to his business and had the success we see nowadays on the brand of his automobiles.

Nowadays, we are surrounded by an infinitely larger number of people who can share knowledge and experience. It is the internet. Don't be shy about sharing your project and consulting with people who may be working on the same issues and maybe have already solved it.

In our book “The Maker's Manual” volume 1, we dealt with just that in the Maker Manifesto.