MBSE and Virtual Commissioning: Do the Two Intersect?

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The digital revolution is upon us – in virtually every global industry.

Products today are smarter than ever, embedded with complex technology and architectures.  Things like nanotechnology, compact sensors, and small printed circuit boards (PCBs) are turning mechanical products into sophisticated electronic devices. Companies design wearable devices with the ability to monitor complex parameters while gathering critical data. Aviation and defense programs, which always have had many moving parts, are using more chips and sensors than ever before. Automotive electro-mechanical systems are essential to the creation of “smart cars,” and also “connected cars.” Everywhere we look, products are becoming ever-more complex.

In response to this rising complexity, some manufacturers are adopting systems engineering practices. Systems engineering is a method of developing product architectures and coordinating work across different engineering domains. For many, it is a great boon.

The engineers who design production systems are not strangers to complexity. They face it every day in the cells, lines, and facilities they design. This raises the question: Can systems engineering be applied to the development of production systems? Let’s explore how, by discussing systems engineering and model-based system engineering (MBSE).

What are Systems Engineering and MBSE?

Systems engineering is a set of processes with specific deliverables that enable the development of, as you might expect, complex systems. It follows a particular set of steps to break down and allocate requirements to functions, logical architectures, and physical architectures. This network of allocated things acts as a clear definition for the work of the design teams. It also gives them insight into the impact of change. Changing a physical item affects all connected logical architectures, functions, and requirements, and vice-versa. This central definition of the system, this network of interconnected things, drives alignment between all engineering disciplines.

Iteration is an inherent part of design and engineering, and this applies to systems engineering as well. It is characterized by change and exploration. Those modifications must be properly managed. Early systems engineering practices built on the most widely accessible tools available: documents and spreadsheets. Unfortunately, such tools do a poor job of tracking the granular, widespread change of systems.

Today, however, engineers are transforming the way they manage system design. Companies are moving away from spreadsheets and documents, to a model-based approach. In this approach, a single, central, comprehensive model encompasses the entire network of interconnected things that make up the design of a system. Employing this style of systems engineering eliminates errors and ensures consistency across all engineering disciplines and functional groups.

MBSE and Production Systems

Do systems engineering and MBSE support the development of production systems? Yes. Absolutely.

As discussed earlier, production systems aren’t getting any simpler. The incorporation of new and innovative technologies seems to be more important by the day, month, and year. The Internet of Things (IoT), smart manufacturing, and Industry 4.0 all point to the increased inclusion of electronics, electrical systems, and connectivity in production systems. That means more engineering disciplines, which means more complexity.

Systems engineering and MBSE provide a means to mitigate complexity for any kind of systems development, not just product development. They can be applied successfully to the creation of production systems.

MBSE and Virtual Commissioning

MBSE is an effective approach to systems engineering and design. But when combined with virtual commissioning, it provides a very effective and efficient means of designing complex production systems. Virtual commissioning is a means of virtually testing a production system to validate its delivery of expected behaviors and outcomes. By creating a virtual simulation of the production line, engineers can evaluate performance results in the absence of the actual performance.

So, how exactly do virtual commissioning and MBSE intersect?

In this context, systems engineering and MBSE contain the requirements that define expected behaviors and outcomes for production systems. Virtual commissioning tests whether the production system can deliver the expected behaviors and outcomes. Essentially, systems engineering and MBSE document the test cases and the measures to gauge success that are used to validate and verify the production system. Thus, systems engineering and MBSE provide the targets for success that virtual commissioning efforts must validate in their turn.


  • Product design today is more complex than ever before, especially across engineering disciplines. Systems engineering offers a way to mitigate increases in complexity.
  • MBSE provides a single model that defines and manages change to requirements, functions, and logical architectures, as well as physical items and architectures. MBSE allows multiple engineering teams to coordinate efforts with fewer errors.
  • Systems engineering, MBSE, and virtual commissioning have a natural point of interaction. The systems model includes test cases and measures for success, which then serve as virtual commissioning targets.

Chad Jackson

As Chief Analyst, Chad Jackson leads Lifecycle Insights’ research and thought leadership programs, attends and speaks at industry events, and reviews emerging technology solutions. As CEO, Chad defines Lifecycle Insights’ vision and change initiatives. Chad’s twenty-five-year career has focused on improving executives’ ability to reap value from technology-led initiatives. He has surveyed thousands of manufacturers, produced hundreds of research and thought leadership publications, and presented dozens of times domestically and internationally. He imparts an influential, independent, and insightful voice on the industry’s transition to smart, connected products.

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