The manufacturing industry constantly faces market pressures of mass customization and rapid delivery. The ability to deliver products to market faster, at lower cost, and of higher quality requires design technology advancement. This means making major changes in the design process, where 70 percent of a new product’s life cycle costs are determined.

Virginia Tech has long been a strong player in the design arena. This strength was key to Janis Terpenny’s success in leading an interdisciplinary team towards the goal of Virginia Tech becoming a member of a National Science Foundation (NSF) research group called the Center for e-Design. Terpenny, an associate professor of engineering education in the College of Engineering, is one of the founding co-directors of this center, which is an industry/university cooperative research center (I/UCRC). Before coming to Virginia Tech, she helped start this center at the University of Massachusetts.

The center’s mission is to advance design methods, processes, and technologies for its customers to give them a competitive edge in the market place. The design focus is on complex products and systems for the aerospace, automotive, and medical devices industries. Companies in these areas derive their greatest profit from leading-edge high technology content products so product development needs to be especially innovative and efficient.

The center serves as a national resource and center for excellence for research, technology evaluation and deployment, engineering education, and information transfer. It plays a key role in serving the mutual interests of private industry, government agencies, and academia, including nurturing and developing well-prepared engineers with careers in the area of intelligent product and system design, development and realization.

The center focuses on information as the lifeblood of an enterprise and collaboration as the key to seamlessly integrates design, development, testing, manufacturing, and servicing of products around the world.

A variety of commercially available tools for benchmarking are hosted by the center. Testing and validating new design platforms and tools under development occurs at the center that will allow users at remote locations to participate in the design of a product, directly imposing preferences and constraints over the Internet. This enables real-time product information sharing and collaboration among customers, suppliers, designers, manufacturers, and vendors by utilizing decentralized product development tools—such as virtual analysis, prototyping, and simulation. Participating faculty plan to utilize numerous Virginia Tech laboratories and facilities for innovative research and education initiatives.

Collectively the multi-university Center for e-Design has over $5 million of funding derived from five-year NSF grants at each member university and industry membership fees.

Industry members of the Center for e-Design include: Aerosoft, ALCOA, ANSYS Inc., BAE Systems, Boeing, DRS Technologies, Engineous, Ewi, Ford Motor Company, the Institute for Critical Technologies and Applied Science at Virginia Tech, Kodak, Phoenix Integration located in Virginia Tech’s Corporate Research Center, Pratt & Whitney, Raytheon, Respironics, and Virtual e3D.

The current list of member universities includes: University of Pittsburgh, University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of Central Florida, and now Virginia Tech. For more information about the Center for e-Design, go to:

Terpenny is an associate professor in engineering education with affiliate positions in mechanical engineering and industrial and systems engineering. Her research interests focus on the design of products and systems, including design process and methodology and use of interdisciplinary collaboration and human centered design to improve student learning and motivation. She is one of eight female faculty selected for the AdvanceVT Leadership Program and is the director of the SMART Lab at Virginia Tech (

Another focus of Terpenny’s research is determining better ways to educate tomorrow’s engineers on the design process. “A new infrastructure is needed at universities to allow for more collaborative spaces for students to brainstorm ideas and build product prototypes in teams,” said Terpenny. She will be the coordinator for the mechanical engineering senior design course this year and plans to increase industry involvement.

Terpenny was involved in a test case with fellow engineering education professor, Richard Goff, where their freshmen design teams collaborated with industrial design students in assistive technology design projects in comparison with design work done by other teams without such interdisciplinary collaboration and human-centered projects. The teams that collaborated with industrial design students performed better and learned concepts better—resulting in more successful design projects.

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