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M E 270: Introduction to Mechanical Engineering Design

Learn about tools for finding research materials for student projects in ME 270. This guide also includes tips, strategies, and techniques engineering students need to know for conducting successful library research.

Tools for finding information

For engineering design projects, it is critical to make sure you fully understand the problem before you create a solution. The goal here is to clarify the context you are designing for, and to make sure that you thoroughly explore existing solutions ("prior art") and current research. You'll need to build upon the skills you learned in Lib 160 to make sure you find a set of comprehensive, authoritative sources of information. The goal of this literature review is to make sure you thoroughly understand the audience, the problem, any existing solutions, current research in progress, industry standards and trends, and so on.

The following tabs contain links to databases where you can search for articles, handbooks, patents, standards, and other documents that may be useful to your research.

Demographics: Know your audience

Statistics and demographic information can help you understand the audience you are designing for. Below are links to some reputable sources for worldwide statistics.

Also consider: what (or who) may not be represented in the data you are using? For a great example of how missing data negatively impacted a project to design cleaner-burning cookstoves, particularly the adoption and use of those stoves in the target community, check out the following book:

Engineering Research

"Scholarly information" typically includes books, articles, conference proceedings and other publications created by researchers that have undergone peer review prior to publication. You can use the sources below to search the scholarly literature for relevant papers, book chapters, and so on that will support your choices for your design projects.

You can also use the library's Quick Search to find books, articles, standards, and other materials in our collections:

ISU Library Quick Search - Library Collections Only

Don't forget: if the item you need isn't available through the library's subscriptions, as an ISU student you can still request it from Interlibrary Loan and get a copy at no cost to you!

What are patents?

In short, a patent is a grant of specific property rights for an invention in exchange for full public disclosure of the details of the invention. Patents are typically issued by a government body. In the United states, that body is the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

According to the USPTO...

The right conferred by the patent grant is, in the language of the statute and of the grant itself, “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the United States or “importing” the invention into the United States. What is granted is not the right to make, use, offer for sale, sell or import, but the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the invention. Once a patent is issued, the patentee must enforce the patent without aid of the USPTO.

How to find patents

Because patent documents contain highly technical and oftentimes obfuscating language, it can be difficult to locate relevant patents especially if you do not know the patent number or inventor's / assignee's name. Keyword searching alone will only get you a small part of the full scope of patent documents related to a particular topic. Happily, modern search tools are making it possible to search for patents much more easily.

Basic search strategies

Keyword searching

Keyword searching is probably the most familiar search strategy, since this is typically what we use when searching for other types of documents. Finds patent documents containing the word(s) you entered, and sometimes common variations on those words.

Assignee or inventor searching

This involves searching for the person who invented the item being patented, or who has been assigned the patent rights. The assignee can be a company, not just a person. The inventor can waive their right to be named in the patent document, so this is not a foolproof method even if you know the inventor's name.

Classification searching

Precision searching using a patent classification system, typically Cooperative Patent Classification scheme (CPC). These systems organize patents hierarchically based on what they are about or for. If you know the classification for the type of item you're interested in, you can quickly locate all patents for that type of item regardless of language used.

Search tools

For more help with patent searching

Contact your librarian for more help with patent searching. A librarian can help you develop search strategies, navigate a CPC search, and more.

If you are considering patenting an invention and require an absolutely thorough search for existing patents, your best bet would be to get in touch with a patent attorney. (A librarian can help you do your homework in advance of meeting with a patent attorney, but is not a substitute for a patent attorney.)

What are standards?

Standard – A set of technical definitions, instructions, rules, guidelines, or characteristics set forth to provide consistent and comparable results, including:

  • Items manufactured uniformly, providing for interchangeability
  • Tests and analyses conducted reliably, minimizing the uncertainty of the results
  • Facilities designed and constructed for safe operation

Source: ASME Engineering Student Resources

In short, a standard is an agreed-upon way of doing things. Standards may or may not be voluntary. Some standards are adapted into law and become codes, for example the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code. You can take a look at a copy of this code in Room 161 (Standards Center) at Parks Library.

Why search for standards?

Locating relevant standards and making use of existing standards in your design project allows you to make use of existing best practices without spending a lot of time reinventing the wheel. It also helps to ensure that the product you design will be compatible with other existing products.

How to find standards

If you already have the standard number or title, you can search for it in Quick Search to see if the ISU Library already owns a copy. If there is a copy in our collection, use the call number and location information in Quick Search to find it in Parks Library. Feel free to contact me if you need help with this!

ISU Library Quick Search - Library Collections Only

Online standards

The ISU Library provides online access to the full text of standards from a few organizations.

Other standards

You can use a standards search engine to find a standard. Once you've located the right standard, you'll want to check and see if it is available at ISU.

For more standards help...

For more standards help, including how to find standards in our print collection and how to request standards the Library doesn't own, check the information in the Library's Standards & Specifications guide, or contact your librarian.

Find trade & business information online

Trade and business publications focus on industry, rather than on the academic aspects of engineering. You're likely to find information on industries, companies, and new product developments by searching this type of literature.

Getting Materials

Once you've identified an item of interest (an article, handbook, conference paper, standard, etc.), you have many options for getting a copy to use.

If the library has a hard copy

  • Find it on the shelf, then check it out or scan what you need
  • Use Pick from Shelf and pick it up at the Main Desk in a few hours or days
  • Use Document Delivery to have a scan emailed to you (only articles, proceedings papers, and book chapters, not full books)

If the library has a digital copy

  • Look for "full text" or "PDF" in the search tool you're using
  • Use Get It@ISU button to check for online access in databases that don't have full text articles

If the library doesn't own a copy

  • Request with Interlibrary Loan to borrow a copy / receive a scan from another library
  • Email your librarian to request a purchase (for standards and books we don't have)
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Erin Thomas
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150 Parks Library
Iowa State University
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