Designing and building for the future

Home learning focus

Learn about utilising new and emerging technologies when designing and building for the future.

This lesson includes:

  • two video clips demonstrating the use of CAD and CAM in aircraft manufacturing and robotics in assistive technology

  • an activity to try at home


When designing any product it should aim to solve a problem. When designing and building for the future, you need to consider the materials and technologies available to you.

As well as modern, smart and composite materials covered in the last session, new and emerging technologies are often used to increase efficiency in production and reduce the impact of human error. One such technology is CAD and CAM.

Computer aided design (CAD) is the process of creating a design using computer software. CAD is not only used to design a product - it can also test it too. With a huge database of material properties, CAD software can simulate how a material will react when exposed to force, heat and pressure.

Computer aided manufacture (CAM) is the manufacture of a part or product from a computer aided design (CAD) using computer-controlled machinery, such as laser cutters, 3D printers and milling machines.

An example of computer aided design (CAD)

An example of computer aided design (CAD)

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Advantages and disadvantages of CAD and CAM

CAD allows you to:

  • design new products in 3D, shown from all angles
  • quickly make changes to design, materials, colours and components and test the effect of these changes
  • share these designs around the world for collaboration and consultation
  • work out what outputs use the least surface area of material, reducing waste

By being able to try ideas out implement continual evaluation without the need for a physical model or product CAD can save costs, particularly within extreme designs where thousands of components can be required.

While there are many advantages to CAD, it can be expensive to set up and requires a skilled workforce to use. It can also be difficult to keep up with constantly changing and improving technology.

Once production is finalised, these designs are sent to computer aided manufacture (CAM) machines to be formed.

CAM allows you to:

  • quickly and and accurately produce components or product
  • reduce the impact of human error on production
  • work on scale, with machines running constantly on repetitive tasks

However, as with CAD, it can be expensive to set up and requires a skilled workforce of engineers.

The following short film looks at the use of CAD and CAM in the context of aircraft manufacturing. In the production of aircraft engines, thousands of components are required. As such, production includes different manufacturing processes and the use of CAD and CAM for accuracy and efficiency.

The use of CAD and CAM in aircraft manufacturing.

There are, of course, other technologies available to you when building for the future.

Technology continues to be developed for manufacturing processes in order to improve quality and speed of making, while maintaining customer satisfaction.

Automation has been developing in factories since the Industrial Revolution, with machinery being used to complete tasks previously done by humans.

Automated machines are programmed to carry out a procedure multiple times, e.g. repeatedly creating the shape of a car door using a press, to improve production time.

The cost of setting up machinery is high but, when they are operating, less waste is produced and running costs are lower. Automation has streamlined the manufacturing system by increasing production and reducing errors.

The use of robotics is just one part of automation. The difference between robotics and automation is that robots use artificial intelligence (AI) to collect information and improve the performance of a particular procedure.

Robotics has proven popular because of their ability to increase efficiency and handle harmful materials that humans cannot, but they are very expensive.

Robots usually work when electronic microprocessors control motors, gears and levers, and as such designers need a good mechanical understanding.

The rapid changes in technology and automation in recent years have meant a decline in the need for traditional skills. Rather than facing unemployment, workers have had to be retrained or up-skilled to manage the new technologies.

Examples of this include robotics, where an employee needs to understand how a robot is programmed and can be controlled to perform a task such as welding, rather than perform the manual skill of welding themselves.

Embracing new technology allows products to remain popular with a modern market while creating new and innovative looks

An automated production line.

An automated production line.

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The following video, taken from 'The Big Life Fix' series, follows Ayala and her twin Caira, both eight-years-old, who were born prematurely at 25 weeks, with severe bleeds on the brain and holes in their hearts.

Caira has vocal cord paralysis, which results in her having a husk in her voice, and Ayala has cerebral palsy.

It follows the process as designer and engineer Ross Atkin researches and designs a new assistive technology for them, utilising robotics.

Ross designs two robots, one that Ayala can operate using head switches on her wheelchair, the other, her sister Caira operates using an identical hand held switch.

He also builds Ayala a mechanical drawing machine and a bespoke app to control it.

Using robotics within assistive technology.


Now you can try and put some of what you have learned about new and emerging technologies into action.

Design challenge

Design a robotic product that can act as an assistive technology. For inspiration you can explore more of 'The Big Life Fix' series.

You will need to:

  • Identify the context in which your design will be helpful
  • Identify the problem your design will solve
  • Build a design specification for the user - look online for market research
  • Design a product that will solve this problem - consider its mechanics and how it will be operated

You can get further information on different electronic and mechanical systems here.

You can work this out with a pencil and paper, or if you want to take it further you can try and make a model of the end product using materials from around the house.

Where next?

Continue your learning with these links:

More from 'The Big Life Fix' series

There's more to learn

Have a look at these other resources around the BBC and the web.

Bitesize Daily lessons
Secondary Design and Technology
BBC Teach Design and Technology