Common Engineering Terms
Ever fall down a rabbit hole searching for engineering terms? Industrial marketers, stop the endless Google searches. Read our engineering terminology guide!
A device that converts energy into an action such as motion. For example, a pneumatic cylinder is a type of actuator that uses compressed air to push, lift, pull, rotate, or open and close items.
Also known as 3D printing. A technique that involves layering on materials one microlayer at a time to create a 3D product or component, rather than stamping, punching, casting, or injecting plastics. Additive manufacturing enables the creation of product designs that were impossible to create with the old style of manufacturing.
A software program that simulates human thinking and decision-making using advanced algorithms.
A group of components that make up a machine or part.
Describes a software that can view and edit documents created with previous versions of that software.
A design process that involves creating virtual models of structures and spaces, usually in 3D, for architectural projects.
BOM: Bill of materials
A document that lists all of the components, parts, and other materials needed to completely build a product.
CAD model: Computer-aided design model
The virtual part or machine an engineer places in their design via CAD software. Engineers can download CAD models from a manufacturer’s digital parts catalog and test them in their virtual design.
CAD software: Computer-aided design software
The computer system that an engineer uses to create and document designs. CAD software makes the design and documentation process easier by improving accuracy and efficiency.
CAM: Computer-aided manufacturing
The use of computers to automate manufacturing processes.
A group within an organization that operates outside all its other departments and works to implement different processes and technologies across the organization.
Component digital twins (See also: Digital twin)
High-fidelity native CAD models that are equipped for industry 4.0. Native CAD formats power component digital twins by preserving design intent and containing critical data.
Individual, removable pieces (switches, springs, etc.) or self-designed parts (brackets, castings, etc.) that make up a larger assembly or design.
Also known as commercial standard parts or supplier standard parts. Engineers purchase COTS parts from suppliers and use them alongside the parts they design within their CAD program. Common commercial standard parts include fasteners, brackets, bearings, motors, cylinders, connectors, and more (see example).
A platform that allows salespersons to manage business relationships and customer information in a single space. In a CRM system, salespersons can automate manual business processes, gather information about their customers and leads, and build contact lists.
A digital view of an object that reveals its inside makeup. Simulates cutting an object into slices.
The impression a customer has after all their digital interactions with a company (computer, tablet, smartphone, etc.). The quality of these interactions (ease of website navigation, page speed, etc.) dictates what the customer thinks of the company, and it will determine whether they return for future purchases.
Describes the step between downloading a CAD model and purchasing a product. The manufacturer, part, and purchasing information are “designed-in” when this information remains within the CAD model throughout the design and download process. When the customer is ready to purchase a part, the CAD model’s designed-in information gives them everything they need to purchase the part from the manufacturer.
A digital library of a supplier’s products that enables engineers to find a part from the supplier, customize it, and download a digital version to test into their design.
The process of adopting strategic sourcing systems that enable supply chain predictions, AI-driven cost reduction, and automated purchasing of parts.
A digital line of communication that uses digital technologies to break the barriers of traditionally siloed departments. Digital thread initiatives aim to push decision-making power to the lowest level possible by giving relevant information to the right person, in the right department, at the right time.
A digital representation of physical objects or potential physical objects. Digital twins use sensor data and AI simulation for digital testing, digital simulation, predictive maintenance, and analysis. They facilitate the virtual simulation and testing of supplier parts and help pinpoint maintenance needs to limit downtime.
PDFs with product information and 3D images that customers can download and share with colleagues or clients. These PDFs include the product identification number, manufacturer information, part specifications, a quote, and a 3D part image that the user can move and adjust in the document.
A document notifying of or requesting a new part or changes to an existing part.
A disassembled view of an object. Exploded view lets the user see each component of an assembly separately.
Network of sensors and connected devices in factories. The IIoT collects data that can be analyzed to improve operations, monitor performance, and improve efficiency.
The collection of all the industrial data found in connected IIoT devices that goes to various business systems.
A subset of standard parts. Components regulated by a standards body, such as the National Fluid Power Association or the American Bearing Manufacturers Association. These parts meet standards that are tested for quality, reliability, and safety.
Known as the fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0 is the integration of many emerging technologies that collect and leverage industrial big data to drive manufacturing and supply chain automation, provide real-time insights, and close communication feedback loops for faster decision-making in the manufacturing process.
The ability of computer systems or software to exchange and make use of information. Interoperability enables engineering data to pass from the original design all the way through the product life cycle.
A web of independently connected devices (e.g., an Apple Watch and Amazon Alexa) that communicate data to other devices and people over the internet. The culmination of all “smart devices” makes up the Internet of Things.
A type of artificial intelligence that uses past data to give more efficient and accurate outputs or to complete specific tasks.
A process that falls under the MBE initiative. MBD is the process of building all product manufacturing information directly into models to enable use at all stages of the product life cycle. By creating a centralized source of detailed information for each design, everyone in an organization will see an improved, accurate and consistent method to keep track of CAD models.
An engineering initiative essential to realizing Industry 4.0. Model-Based enterprise ensures that the correct data is present within CAD models in a format that can be read in many systems and is accessible downstream from engineering. Engineers must add all information relevant to downstream processes to CAD models, such as manufacturing data (MBD), supply chain information, pricing, and even maintenance and end-of-life data.
The data found within data. Metadata gives us information about data and gives context by summarizing data. CAD metadata is data embedded within a CAD model that provides supporting information, increasing data fidelity. When 3D CAD models have built-in metadata, each download can include information like the part number, the manufacturer name, and information on how to purchase the physical product. This ensures that the manufacturer’s information remains in the product when designers download it.
A process that enables manufacturing machines to send data to other devices and software applications. These devices then use this data for machine learning and AI.
The default file format that a CAD software provider (CREO, Catia, SolidWorks, etc.) uses to save designs. There are hundreds of different CAD software providers, and each has a specific file format that works within their system. Unlike neutral CAD files, native CAD files contain detailed information like dimensions, mates, constraints, and other data necessary for a cohesive design. When engineers search for CAD models, they prefer to find ones available in the file format they use at their company (their native CAD format).
A file format that can be used in multiple CAD systems (e.g. a STEP file). When a manufacturer cannot provide a CAD model in an engineer’s own native file format, he or she provides it in a neutral format that the engineer’s system can adopt. Neutral formats, notably STEP, are best suited for long-term archiving, for collaborating with vendors, and for processes that are downstream from design.
Parameters (parametric data) and configurator rules
The limits set on a CAD configurator include parameters like size, material, and product-specific attributes. Constraints standardize a scalable framework for all possible product attribute combinations.
File systems that manage part and product data. A PDM helps manage the files, allows for permissions, and sets protocols for approval processes. When several engineers are working on complex assemblies, PDMs are critical. They ensure engineers use the right parts and store and manage CAD files correctly.
Systems that create workflows, timelines, and processes to ensure that projects stay on deadline and that everyone is working on the same iteration of each part and assembly. If multiple departments must access CAD and product information throughout the product life cycle, PLM systems are a game-changer.
Data needed for manufacturing machines to produce a part (e.g., geometric dimensions, material, and finishes). Manufacturers use PMI to program machines and give guidance and specifications for the final component.
Equipment that uses pressurized air or gas to complete a task. For example, pneumatic cylinders use compressed air to apply force to a load. A valve supplies compressed air to the cylinder, creating pressure and pushing the cylinder’s piston forward. To retract the piston, the valve sends compressed air to the opposite end of the cylinder, pushing the piston back.
These cylinders can push, lift, pull, and rotate items, and they can open and close valves.
A product configurator is an online product “menu” that enables website visitors to customize the products they buy. Manufacturers and other businesses can offer a product configurator with a customizable “menu” that includes parameters like size, material, RPMs, and product-specific attributes.
A basic 2D representation of a part and its function used extensively in electrical drawings to show the interaction between components.
(Verb) To write specifications for. Engineers spec parts from manufacturers into their product designs. For example, an engineer building a conveyor belt will spec a motor from a manufacturer and put the model of the motor into their design. Manufacturers can get their products spec’d in by delivering 3D CAD models of their products on their website.
The details of what’s in a product or part, e.g., dimensions, materials, RPMs, range of motion, part number, or manufacturer name.
Large products or assemblies are made up of component parts that carry out a specific function and can also be built into a larger design. Standard machines can be made configurable depending on the manufacturer’s design methodology. If the standard machine has “options,” most likely it is configurable.
Parts that can be reused or “standardized” across an assembly or multiple assemblies. Standard parts include fasteners, brackets, cylinders, or even entire assemblies of parts.
STEP is a neutral file format that is widely used to share geometry between CAD systems, and for the archival of designs in 3D.
The complete technical description of a system that facilitates its production and maintenance.
The measurement of how much force you’ll need to rotate an object around an axis. You can calculate it by multiplying force times length.
When riding a bike uphill, switching to a low gear (high torque) makes it easier to move up the hill. Increasing the size of the gear (increasing length) spreads the work out along a longer path. This increases torque and gives the rider more force to move the wheel.
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