The History of Engineering Design Tools: Engineering 1.0

There have been four great stages of engineering and design tools leveraged over the past 250 years to account for all the mechanisms, inventions and designs that we have used to simplify and improve our lives. This post will take a fun look back at some of the earliest stage tools used during the Engineering 1.0 era which occurred from roughly 1760 to 1970. This stage of engineering design tools used over a 200 year period brought forth incredible advances to all aspects of society despite their seemingly primitive nature. Looking back at these tools should make us truly appreciate the advances brought on by subsequent Engineering stages (2.0 to 4.0).

Engineering 1.0

Since the early days of engineering design, the challenge of communicating designs to other people has been manifest. In their most basic form, engineering drawings are tools used to convey information about a design to someone who will be engaged in the producing or making of the design.

Early engineering drawings were more similar to artistic drawings than technical drawings in that they could be conveyed to almost anyone without requiring them to learn a special set of rules in order to understand and ultimately produce the designs. One of the great talents of the past, Leonardo da Vinci created many inventions on paper that demonstrate the early artistic-centric engineering design communication. Keep in mind that many of Leonardo’s inventions were not realized in his time due to a variety of limitations in prototyping, simulation, materials and overall manufacturing know-how during his life.

Over the years, the language of engineering drawings has evolved into such a specific and precise methodology that special skills and training are needed to properly interpret them. While paper and pencil were initially deployed to communicate designs, a special set of tools and aids were developed over time to make the design process faster and more accurate, a theme that continues to evolve today. Tools that were used and refined during the Engineering 1.0 era include:

  • Pencils, pens, ink and erasers
  • Straightedges and T-squares
  • Leroy Lettering Set and Templates
  • French Curves and Triangles
  • Rulers and Scales
  • Protractors, Dividers and Compasses
  • Tacks and Push Pins
  • Slide Rules and Calculators
  • Drawing Boards and Drawing Tables

The basis for engineering drawings evolved over this period to include many things that we take for granted today using more modern methods such as:

  • Multiple Views
  • Orthographic Drawing Projections
  • Isometric Views
  • Perspective
  • Section Views
  • Dimensions & Scaled Drawings
  • Title Blocks and Revisions
  • Notes, Tables and Bill of Materials

The inventions and designs created since the industrial revolution are too plentiful to list, but here are some of the highlights of those invented between 1770 and 1915:

  • Steam Engine
  • Cotton Gin
  • Telegraph
  • Sewing Machine
  • Telephone
  • Phonograph
  • Electric Motor
  • Diesel Engine
  • Airplane
  • Car

With just the basic tools of the era (Engineering 1.0), engineers, designers and inventors were able to create life-changing tools, machines and products that forever changed the world by bringing automation, communication, transportation, energy and many other advances to support the fast growing population of the planet.

In future posts, we will look at the next three (3) waves of progress in the world of Engineering Design Tools from Engineering 2.0 to the up and coming Engineering 4.0. Stay tuned!

The next engineering paradigm, Engineering 4.0, extends design data to downstream departments in the right format at the right time; resulting in a more efficient product development process. Read our article and infographic to learn how you can stand out with Engineering 4.0.



Rich Allen

Rich Allen

Senior Director, Product Management at Dassault Systemes SolidWorks Corp.
Senior Director, Product Portfolio Management that manages the team that focuses on the SolidWorks integrated desktop product portfolio, including SolidWorks CAD, SolidWorks Simulation, SolidWorks Enterprise PDM, eDrawings, SolidWorks Electrical, SolidWorks Plastics, SolidWorks Inspection, SolidWorks MBD and SolidWorks Composer. Rich has been with SolidWorks for the past ten (10) years, working in strategic accounts and then leading the data management products for the SolidWorks brand, including SolidWorks Enterprise PDM and ENOVIA Collaborative Design for SolidWorks. Prior to that Rich spent over 25 years in the PLM industry leading teams at United Technologies, IBM, CoCreate and was the founder and owner of several technology companies.
Rich Allen
Rich Allen