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Paying attention pays off

The value of a college education is sometimes hard to put into words. But Charles L. Lincicum of Danvers, Mass., can put it into numbers: $2.4 million. That's how much money a WPI night course he took has saved his company, he says. Read the full story on The Wire @ WPI.

"Two years ago, Dr. Suh came to SVG and used axiomatic design to evaluate a problem that we had been working on for 3-4 years. Using axiomatic design principles, he solved this problem for us in one day. Our customers wanted us to purchase a new and very expensive robot to solve the problem. Instead, we reexamined the functional requirements of the current system and realized that the system was coupled. By decoupling this system, we found an inexpensive solution to this problem.

On that one project alone, we saved approximately 8,000 engineering hours or approximately $1 million in savings and our time-to-market was reduced by 3 months. Since then our engineers have taken [axiomatic design] principles to other larger projects with tremendous success.

Axiomatic design is a powerful process that provides designers with a method or process to thoroughly understand a project."

- Jeff Kowalski,
Thermco Division, Silicon Valley Group, Inc.
"At Ford, Axiomatic Design methods have been helpful in studying designs ranging from a transmission parking pawl, to systems associated with vehicle drift/pull. Axiomatic Design is useful in problem solving and new model design applications, including design of an essentially new transmission."
- Larry Smith,
Quality and Reliability Manager
for Full-Size Pickup and Utility Vehicles,
Ford Motor Company
"One of the greatest benefits of axiomatic design for the engineering manager is that it makes new engineers far more productive than they would be otherwise. Axiomatic design provides a methodology to support good engineering. Using this process, the engineer must understand the functional requirements of the design which define the project for the engineer and the manager, and give both parties a sense of what resources are needed, how long the project will take, and what the end product will look like."
- Bob Parvin,
Vice President of Engineering
Thermco Division,
Silicon Valley Group, Inc.
"Axiomatic design is revolutionary."
- Dr. Agus Sudjianto,
Senior Technical Specialist
Ford Motor Company
"We used axiomatic design to fix a flexure mechanism on a prealigner (a device that pre-aligns a wafer). Using this methodology reduced costs by 50% and improved its lifetime by 5 times. Axiomatic design forced the system architecture to be organized in a disciplined fashion so that it would meet customers' expectations."
- Dan Cote,
Vice President of Engineering
Lithography Division,
Silicon Valley Group, Inc

Benefits to the Designers

Axiomatic design helps designers with both new and existing designs. In both cases, designers are more creative and develop better designs in less time.

New designs

By following the process, the designer designs in a systematic way, completing prerequisite tasks before continuing to the next stage. Accordingly, the designer is

more creative by:

  • understanding a clearly defined problem before design begins
  • identifying innovative ways to fulfill the functional requirements

saves time by:
  • avoiding frustrating dead ends
  • drastically reducing random searches for solutions
  • minimizing or eliminating design iterations
  • using current design tools more effectively

produces better designs by:
  • selecting the best design among good alternatives
  • optimizing the design properly
  • verifying the design against explicit requirements

and has a fully documented design for troubleshooting and extensions.

Diagnosis of existing designs

For diagnosing an existing design, the use of axiomatic design highlights problems such as coupling and makes clear the relationships between the symptoms of the problem (one or more FRs not being achieved) and their causes (the specific DPs affecting those FRs). While improving the solution, the designer also enjoys the new-design benefits above.

Extensions and ECOs to existing designs

When an existing version needs an engineering change or an upgrade, axiomatic design identifies all of the areas affected by the contemplated changes. As a result, unintended problems are avoided.

To summarize, for both new and existing designs, the designer is more creative, turning out better designs quicker.

Benefits to Management

Efficient project work-flow

Axiomatic design helps to identify tasks, set a task sequence from the system architecture, and assign resources effectively. This process also allows you to check progress against explicit FRs.

Effective change management

When creating change, axiomatic design uses explicit criteria, allows you to select the best option, identify effects throughout the system, and document changes.

Efficient design function

Axiomatic design enables use of a common language and shared information between design team members which preserves institutional learning.

Benefits to the Firm

The designers' benefits translate into three categories of benefits for the firm:

  1. competitive advantage
  2. higher profit
  3. less risk

Competitive advantage

The firm gains a competitive advantage when it satisfies its customers' needs best. With axiomatic design, those needs map to explicit functional requirements and constraints, which the designers strive to meet. (If, for some reason, no design meets the initial set of FRs and Cs, the firm can explain the tradeoffs of specific alternatives to the customer.) Constraints such as cost and weight can be allocated and verified as the design progresses to ensure they are met.

Time to market, another source of competitive advantage, is shortened since designers avoid time-consuming iterations and dead ends.

Higher profit

The firm can earn more profit by selling more units, commanding a higher price, or reducing cost. Axiomatic design helps in all three areas:

  • With products that meet customers' needs better than competitive products, the firm gains market share, resulting in higher unit sales.
  • In addition, meeting those needs better means more value to the customer, who is then willing to pay a higher price.
  • Three types of cost can be lowered: R&D, cost of goods sold, and support.
    1. The R&D cost is less because designers spend less time designing the product initially and making engineering changes after the product is released.
    2. COGS drops when products are not coupled and therefore are easier to assemble and test.
    3. Support costs are lower because products which are not coupled install and set up faster, and typically require fewer warranty repairs.

Less risk

Axiomatic design reduces both technical risk and business risk. Axiom 2, the Information Axiom, ensures that the chosen design has minimum information content, which is defined as the most technically probable to succeed. Business risk is also reduced because

  • products satisfy customers' needs since FRs are derived from those needs
  • development schedules are shorter and more predictable, and
  • upgrades can be done quickly and effectively.

In sum, axiomatic design provides the designer with the benefit of designing better products faster, and provides the firm with a competitive advantage, higher profit and less risk.


There are a number of techniques used today in design such as QFD, TRIZ and robust design. The use of these techniques and others is completely consistent with axiomatic design. In fact, axiomatic design can help the designer apply these techniques better. This figure shows how they all fit together.

Using Other Design Tools Within the Axiomatic Design Framework

Some examples of what these techniques can do are:

  • With QFD (Quality Function Deployment, "the voice of the customer"), designers gather information from customers about their requirements and the relative importance of each. This information helps the designer to choose which FRs must be present and which may be safely ignored.
  • When a designer has selected an FR and wants to identify alternative DPs to achieve it, TRIZ (the theory of inventive problem solving) can be helpful in generating alternatives.
  • After choosing a DP to satisfy an FR, the designer uses robust design to optimize the design of this particular DP, which helps to reduce the information content of the design.

The designer follows the axiomatic design process and uses the various techniques when appropriate. Axiomatic design helps the designer avoid mistakes such as unknowingly attempting to optimize a coupled design.

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