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
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
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
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
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
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