A Social Media Approach to Support Engineering Design Communication

  • James Gopsill

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Engineers TalkBe it through conversations, meetings, informal discussion, phone calls or E-Mail, Engineering Design Communication is the main tributary for the sharing of knowledge, thoughts and ideas, and therefore, fundamental to Engineering Work. An engineer spends a significant portion of their day communicating as they 'fill in the gaps' left by formal documentation and processes. It is thereby, an inherent source of explicit design rationale that relates to (and very often supplements) Engineering Records and their generation. Engineering Design Communication is not only central for Engineering Work and Records but also offers potential - through aggregation - to reveal underlying features, patterns and signatures that could aid current and future Engineering Project Management.As Engineering Design Communication plays such a pivotal role, it comes as no surprise that there is much extant research. The majority of this is descriptive and has focused on identifying patterns in engineers' communication behaviour as well as analysing the utility of currently employed communication tools/mediums (such as, E-Mail and meetings). However, little prescriptive research - through either a tool or process - has been undertaken. This may be due to the considerable challenges facing research in this field such as the need to maintain a high-level of Engineering Context, ensure the right engineers are able to participate and associate the communication with its respective Engineering Records. All of which, has to be achieved within an Engineering Context where teams are becoming larger, more mobile, multi-disciplinary & distributed, and often performing variant or incremental design.Although, it is argued that Social Media has the potential to militate these challenges through the use of technologies that provide agile development, support for ubiquitous computing and sharing of multimedia. Therefore, this thesis investigates how Social Media can be used to support Engineering Design Communication. This is achieved through the elicitation and synthesis of the requirements for supporting Engineering Design Communication, and consideration of the effective application of the Social Media. This forms the basis from which a Social Media approach to support Engineering Design Communication is created and then instantiated within a tool called PartBook. PartBook has been developed iteratively and involved an industrial study to evaluate and improve functionality.It has since been used within an eleven week Formula Student project involving thirty-four students from multiple engineering disciplines in a distributed working environment. The analysis of which addresses the validation of the requirements that has led to amendments and generation of new requirements as well as evaluation of the Social Media approach that has led to insights into the potential impact such a tool could bring to Engineering Work, Records and Project Management.
Date of Award28 May 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorBen Hicks (Supervisor), Hamish Mcalpine (Supervisor) & Stephen Culley (Supervisor)


  • Engineering Communication
  • Social Media
  • Engineering Design
  • CSCW

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