The center also is working on methods to deal with “obsolescence,” that is, to predict when something will become obsolete, and develop ways to address it before it happens. “There might be ships and planes around for decades, with sophisticated systems that involve radar and cameras that become obsolete,” Terpenny says. “The government and defense contractors spend a lot of money chasing down these problems, trying to fix them or find new parts. We are trying to find strategies that will help extend products—not just in the defense industry, but in all the products we use as consumers.”
The center also advises manufacturers on how to produce a product while they are still designing it, so companies don’t end up with products too expensive to make. It encourages them to include input from “stakeholders,” such as consumers, suppliers, distributors, sales and marketing before they begin. “It’s important to consider the entire life of a product,” Terpenny says.
The Center for E-Design has established a repository of information—essentially a large data base—to collect and share expertise, so that accumulated design, manufacture, and technology knowledge is never lost.
“Typically, when I retire from a company, all my expertise disappears with me,” she says. “We want to prevent that from happening. This knowledge base will capture the what, when and how of what I’ve done before, so that expertise can be tapped and shared. It will keep people from having to reinvent the wheel, and learn from scratch.”