The core members of the design team. From left to right: Dr. Baldur Steingrimsson, Prof. Sung Yi and the PhD candidate Robert Jones.

Portland Engineering Company Awarded Phase II Grant from the National Science Foundation through Small Business Innovation Research Program

MEDIA CONTACT – Dr. Baldur Steingrimsson at 763-439-6905 or

PORTLAND, Ore. – Sept. 16, 2016 – Imagars LLC, a Portland engineering technology company, has been awarded a $750,000 grant from the highly competitive Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II program of the National Science Foundation (NSF) for its Ecosystem for Learning and Team Design.

Modern engineering techniques and processes are things that many of us take for granted.  We travel across bridges every day in cars or fly to our destinations without much drama or fanfare.  However, when there is a flaw in the design process, the outcome can be catastrophic.  The Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse on November 7, 1940, the massive 25 million Takata airbag recall and the multi-billion dollar Boeing 787 Dreamliner battery defects constitute some noteable examples. In his textbook on Six Sigma, R.S.M Harry notes:
“If a reliability problem is detected during engineering, the cost of the product goes up by a factor of 10. If the problem is caught in production phase, the cost of the product increases by a factor of 100 or more.”

Examples such as these are what drive Dr. Baldur Steingrimsson, President and General Manager of Imagars LLC, and his team to develop a patent-pending tool that can help designers identify design oversights early in the process. Ecosystem for Learning and Team Design is the title for this generic methodology to structured engineering design.  This SBIR project is part of a collaborative effort with the Portland State University (PSU) Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering (MME) and is funded, in part, by the National Science Foundation.

The design team consists of Dr. Steingrimsson, originally from Reykjavík, Iceland, Dr. Sung Yi, Professor and Chair of the MME Dept. at PSU, Dr. Faryar Etesami, Associate Professor, and the PhD Candidate Robert Jones.

“The problem has to do with design pitfalls and inhibited productivity.  It starts when design engineers stray away from the design process, either knowingly or un-knowingly. The results can be catastrophic,” says Dr. Steingrimsson.  “Or this can simply translate into the need to rework a part of the design, that is into a productivity interruption.”

“The Ecosystem has application both for educational institutions and for engineering organizations,” says Dr. Steingrimsson.  The educational (Phase I) version has already been put to use by aspiring mechanical engineers in the capstone program at PSU. It has also been applied by engineering departments at the University of Minnesota, the University of Nebraska, and the New Mexico State University. Furthermore, the UC Berkeley Formula Racing team recently asked Imagars to incorporate the team’s Design Decision Document and Design Review Deliverables Document into the Ecosystem.

The educational version guides designers throughout the design process, assesses the quality of design activities relative to each stage in the design process, and reinforces proper design techniques. In addition to the design decision support, the Phase I Ecosystem offers numerous project management facilities, interface to development tools (such as SolidWorks), interface with tools for team communications (Google Drive, MS OneDrive, Dropbox), and more. The Phase I Ecosystem is capable of automatically assessing design activities against learning objectives compliant with those set by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), as well as exporting design content into formatted project reports. It helps students collect customer feedback, define good customer requirements, translate into strong engineering requirements, and objectively analyze concept design solution candidates.

In Phase II, Imagars is looking to extend its structured design methodology to automatic requirement verification, and combine with big data analytics, for the purpose of making use of repositories of know good designs and improving design decision fidelity. Dr. Steingrimsson believes the generic nature of the automatic requirement verification (Imagars’ e-design assessment engine), and the ability to support development tools across engineering design, has been instrumental in winning over the reviewers at the National Science Foundation.

Dr. Steingrimsson stresses that the e-design tool is not a mission critical component.  “The user still has the ability to interface directly with the development tools, as before, if the user so chooses. As opposed to being a competitor to SOLIDWORKS, ABACUS, AutoCAD, or other tools for engineering design, the Ecosystem works with these tools to help the designer arrive at a final design of high quality. As a matter of fact, Imagars is a member of SolidWorks’ Research Partnership program. Our patent-pending design decision support mechanism can be incorporated into SolidWorks as an add-in.”

The SBIR program has played a central role in helping Imagars LLC continue with development of the Ecosystem for Learning and Team Design.  This is a highly competitive program that encourages domestic small businesses to engage in Federal Research / Research and Development (FR/R&D) of products that have the potential for commercialization. Through a competitive awards-based program, SBIR enables small businesses to explore their technological potential and provides the incentive to profit from its commercialization. By including qualified small businesses in the nation’s R&D arena, high-tech innovation is stimulated and the United States gains entrepreneurial spirit as it fulfills its specific research and development needs.

Also central to Imagars success is the dedicated mentorship the company received from the Portland Chapter SCORE mentor, Garth Eimers.  “I am very grateful for the extensive support Garth has provided throughout the entire Phase II proposal preparation and review process,” says Steingrimsson.  SCORE is a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship. “Garth enabled us to get across the finish line. We are very grateful to him for making himself available on short notice at critical points in the review process. Garth brings a wealth of valuable experience from his time at Intel and Tektronix.”

The next step for Imagars is to use the SBIR grant over the next two years to further develop and refine the Ecosystem for Learning and Team Design.  The way forward for Imagars, as Dr. Steingrimsson sees it, is to partner with design organizations in areas related to engineering design, one where Imagars configures the Ecosystem to suit the needs of these organizations. We are exploring collaborative partnerships with member companies of professional organizations, starting with the Oregon Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), with companies sponsoring capstone design projects in areas related to mechanical design, and with companies sponsoring student design teams participating in competitions, such as Formula or BAJA SAE. Dr. Steingrimsson is optimistic for the success of his team and for the future of the Ecosystem for Learning and Team Design.  “Just putting your heart and soul into things may not suffice, but if you are also working with good people, amazing things can happen.”


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