:: Specific Design Brief

Practical Action 8: Systems and Control Design Contexts

The exam boards require that students know about such topics related to systems and control:
• Electrical systems
• Electronic systems
• Mechanical systems
• Pneumatic systems
• Programmable control devices
• Materials
• Components
• Principles and techniques of testing applied to system design
• Industrial and commercial practice - manufacturing systems
• Industrial and commercial practice - forms of energy and impact on design, manufacturing and the environment
• Market-pull and technology-push
• New technologies including CAD/CAM, CIS, CIM

There are three possible strategies for finding worthwhile design contexts

Strategy 1 – specific sectors
In any the following sectors sustainability can be introduced by designing a more sustainable product.
Occupational therapy/ health related products
Many people need some kind of equipment to make life better for them. There are opportunities for linking with the OT department of heath service providers, special needs schools, old people’s homes and the like, to find a client and/ or end-user who need a specialised device. N.B. Often the need is immediate and the end-user might be frustrated if the whole project lasts for months and months.

Organic horticulture / farming
As more people wish to buy organically produced foods from local suppliers, the number of organic farms and nurseries is increasing. Usually these have a strong bias towards sustainability. Many run on low budgets. There are always needs for automated devices for germination, irrigation, temperature and humidity control. A device to simulate an environment (in which temperature, humidity, sunlight are controlled) could be useful for experimental purposes.  A local garden nursery or farm might well provide a design brief.

Leisure boating and commercial fishing
Boats away from harbour or moorings do not have access to mains electricity. However, there is a range of safety equipment on board that must be reliable in all conditions. Domestic equipment must be small, easy to stow, energy efficient and safe. Commercial fishers need to sort and clean fish. Are there any unmet needs or products used in boats that could be more sustainable with the right sort of control systems in place?

Dealing with waste
As everyone becomes more conscious of the need to conserve and recycle, there is a growing demand for products such as can crushers, methods of sorting plastics, systems for sorting waste in large institutions etc. Some of these might lend themselves to an automated system. Are there any local institutions or companies that might be able to supply a design brief?

Security / warning devices
Many GCSE projects involve some sort of detector with an audible or visible output, such as locks or alarms. Are there possible industrial applications – such as a detector for a hod / lorry / silo to show how full it is, security devices for people with impaired sight or mobility? Are there warning devices needed on building sites or farms – both areas that suffer a high proportion of industrial accidents? Are there other needs in the construction industries e.g. a smart system for logging / controlling use of materials?

Strategy 2 – a technology-push approach
Many electronics students at GCSE develop products that are inappropriate in an age where PCs, smart cards, USB memory sticks etc. are readily available.

Can the student identify a product which currently relies on manufactured circuits, which would be more sustainable if these modern technologies are used?

Are there possibilities for redesigning systems that use renewable energy rather than conventional oil / gas fired electricity generation?

Are there new materials (e.g. smart materials) that open up possibilities of more sustainable products and systems?

Can anything be done in the area of smart food storage, by which items in the fridge which are approaching their ‘use by’ date can identify themselves to the cook (possibly with automated recipe selection)?

A starting point here would be some sort of product analysis, using a tool, such as the Eco-indicator or Design Abacus, and then generating a brief using the emerging areas for improvement.

Strategy 3 – piggy-backing
Some of the existing SDA design contexts might lend themselves to an outcome that is challenging for an ‘A’ level Systems and Control (S&C) student.

Alternatively, there is no reason why another student should not be the client for an S&C student. For example, the Low Impact Building contexts suggest daylight maximising, waste minimisation and an energy efficient house. These suggest product design outcomes. But the students might need some sort of instrumentation and/or data logging system to test the effectiveness of their designs. The student who developed classroom furniture made from recycled cardboard packaging for Zimbabwean schools might have benefited from a device to simulate classroom use, or a strain gauge to identify weak areas. Developing such an automated or semi-automated testing device would be an excellent S&C project. Within the SDA network of schools there is a real opportunity for S&C students to get design briefs from other students.


If you decide to work on this design brief, don't forget to consider the issues of sustainability in the different phases of your designing and making.
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