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Advantages of systems engineering approach

Posted: 24 Oct 2013     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Systems Engineering  development cycle  lifecycle  simulation  verification 

An increasingly globalized market has introduced new challenges for manufacturers across a range of industries – from automotive, medical devices, and aerospace to electronics and high-tech. Customers are demanding a broader range and selection of products, requiring businesses to innovate and rapidly deliver on market demands. Businesses that are unable to adapt quickly will lose mindshare as well as market share. At the same time, product complexity has escalated as organisations increasingly adopt technology-based innovation. These market dynamics are driving engineering executives to rethink how they build teams and establish processes to address these challenges.

Winning new customers and establishing market leadership requires getting the best product at the highest quality faster than the competition. To achieve this, high performing engineering leaders take a Systems Engineering approach, particularly when the product or the development process itself has a high degree of complexity. Those who don't, run the risk of being left behind.

Systems engineering enables engineering organisations to approach the design of complex systems and its impact across multiple engineering disciplines: mechanical, electrical, and software. With this approach, customer requirements are defined early in the development cycle and are implemented through design and system validation—from concept to operation. Systems engineering isn't just an approach to product development, it's a consideration throughout the entire product lifecycle, including product support and maintenance.

By making systems engineering a core discipline, businesses improve collaboration across disparate teams, shorten development cycles, and improve overall product quality.

The current situation
Many discrete manufacturing companies in high-growth industries haven't had the time to proactively adopt a Systems Engineering approach to product development. Company acquisitions, accelerating customer demand and competitive pressures have resulted in the adoption of disjointed product development processes and tools.

Without well-defined end-to-end processes and tools to support them, these businesses are not able to take advantage of high value collaboration between engineering disciplines (mechanical, electrical, and software). Related design artifacts can't be used across product lines, thereby limiting design reuse and introducing inconsistencies and potential quality problems. A lack of standardisation across the systems architecture and processes leads to errors and redundancies, increasing engineering, manufacturing and service costs. In addition, lower quality products are more difficult and costly to maintain.

Disjointed processes make it virtually impossible to test and analyse the product in the context in which it will be used, leading to costly late stage rework. With no linkage or flow between system artifacts (e.g. requirements, designs, models, test, verification etc.), there is also a lack of traceability, increasing the time it takes to analyse data and generate reports to address compliance requirements. As a result, completed product designs don't get to manufacturing on time, affecting overall time-to-market. These delays lead to lost market opportunities—potential sales that may go to competitors.

Key elements of a systems engineering approach
A Systems Engineering approach addresses product development challenges by applying systems engineering throughout the product lifecycle. By applying a systems engineering "lens" in each stage of product development, product requirements can be verified and validated, a flexible and modular product architecture can be created, and high product quality is ensured. As a result, better products get to market sooner.

There are three key elements that form the foundation of a systems approach to building complex products. While there are a wide range of tools, methods, and practices in the systems engineering tool-box, these elements are needed to form a solid foundation.

1) Connect requirements, design, and test for multi-disciplinary collaboration
Well-connected assets and processes enable systems engineers to manage requirements in architecture, design, implementation, and test—with real-time, iterative collaboration across all engineering disciplines. Conventional "siloed" engineering environments are linked—so that systems, mechanical, and electrical engineers spend less time communicating across organisational and geographical boundaries. With an integrated collaborative approach, interdependencies can be recognised and changes can be evaluated instantly, improving efficiency and productivity.

2) Enable validation of lifecycle assets from requirements to test as they are created and changed
Proper requirements validation requires extensive closed-loop analysis, modelling, and simulation. Validation begins at requirements definition and continues throughout the lifecycle so that changes are always accepted, managed and documented in a controlled manner. As each change is accepted, the requirements must be revalidated by examining the artifacts used to do the initial validation. Focusing on customer needs early in development and throughout the product lifecycle reduces late stage rework and ensures the final product meets target objectives for functionality, cost, performance and quality.

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