Organizing a design project: Bottom-Up and Top-Down approach
A product assembly consists of several parts and they have to interface well with each other. Each component must perform its intended purpose within the limits of other components. Two organizational paradigms are used to manage product assemblies:
- Bottom-Up Design
- Top-Down Design
It is a design methodology in which each component is designed as a separate part without any reference to other components in the assembly.
The individual parts are designed to fulfil the intended function and then put together to form assemblies of a product. After the assembly is in place, problems are identified and modifications to individual components are made. As components are independent of each other, if one component is modified, the related components have to be changed manually. It is a manual approach to ensure that components fit properly and meet the design criteria.
- Design work on a product can be jump started
- Detecting the problems related to form and fit is a difficult process
- Considerable amount of time is consumed for fixing individual components.
- Due to placement constraints in an assembly, components are dependent on each other so a component cannot be removed, suppressed, or replaced without affecting other components.
It is a design methodology that starts from the highest level of a design concept and proceeds towards the lowest level of detail. A top-down design project starts with the broad project specification in mind and putting that information in a centralized location. The design process progresses by communicating the centralized information to the individual parts.
Top-down design (TDD) approach allows to control the relations of components with each other so that if central information changes, the components depending on that information change automatically. If implemented properly we can have full control of the assembly at a central location.
- Changes to a project can be managed from a single location.
- All of components will fit seamlessly in the final product.
- A component in the assembly can be removed, suppressed, or replaced without affecting other components.
- Top-down design requires extensive planning in the beginning of a project although it saves time at the end.
Which method is best?
It all depends upon the design project.
For a design project where considerable information exists e.g. from the experience of a similar project, top-down approach has a clear advantage. The existing information can be captured and placed at a central location to start a project and distribute the tasks to team members.
If very little or no information exists about a new product, it becomes meaningless to start with top-down approach. In this case, bottom-up approach makes more sense.
There may be situations when both techniques are used together in a same project. For example a project may be initiated with bottom-up approach. As the design progresses and more information and constraints become known, the design project can be handled more efficiently by adopting top-down design approach. Similarly, in a top-down design project, to place the standard components like screws, bolts, nuts, bearing or other components that are used across multiple projects, bottom-up techniques are preferred.