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Acoustics Systems Engineering

The Science of Sound and Silence

By Nick Eaton, 18/1/2018

Acoustics generally means sound. When we talk about noise, it's unwanted sound that we need to reduce. People are sensitive to sound and too much can cause problems. Getting the right sound from a product can be a big plus, as in a Ferrari or an instrument. Understanding of how sound is produced, how it travels, and how to describe and control it are key elements of product systems engineering - be it for a machine, a building, transportation or in communication.

Ideally, acoustics should be embedded in the design and engineering cycle, and guided by SE principles; it’s usually hard to change the sound a system makes after it has already been built. Solutions generally aim at reducing the noise to an acceptable amount, but what is “acceptable” and how can this be efficiently done?

Automotive development over the last years provides a good example of how noise can be reduced whilst at the same time increasing the engine power and number of systems, and reducing the weight of the structure and product cost. Small details, like tolerances and materials, can play an important role in the amount and character of the sound. With a human at the centre, the description of the best solution may seem vague but can be achieved with modern tools and metrics. Applying SE principles provides an effective way to meet the competing challenges of acoustics engineering, guaranteeing high sound quality, compliance with specifications, and sales.

Specifications typically contain some form of acoustics requirement, and their implications should be understood at the project planning stage. It makes sense to consider a competitor's products too, and aim for better acoustics. The course presents essential knowledge, sources of information and practical examples with problem-solving exercises. Understanding the way that sound is generated, coupled through structures and air, and how it affects the receiver (e.g. the person) is key to acoustics, and is interesting. The course will help to show how concepts can be outlined, evaluated and traded-off. Acoustics can incur costs in design, manufacture and service. How to estimate them and compare options will be outlined. Examples of how inexpensive modifications achieved by systems thinking can improve acoustics and reduce cost, and options for test validation are discussed.

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