I’ve got a lot to say about Systems Engineering for Smart Products, so this is the first in a series of blogs. In nearly every industry, consumers are benefiting from the evolution of smart products. These are highly-engineered, multi-functional products that interact with people and their environments in new ways to ensure our safety, improve efficiency or reduce energy consumption. Under the hood of every smart product is a complex system (or a series of subsystems) of micro-electronics, embedded software and advanced sensor technology that have to operate in unison to measure operating conditions, predict future events, communicate with other devices, and respond to changes faster and more accurately.
Engineering these systems into a commercially viable product is far from trivial. Today’s smart products have thousands of unique requirements that need to be served by a multiplicity of subsystems and components. Each component may have hundreds of design parameters and multiple interfaces that need to be engineered, verified and validated. The endless design dimensions present opportunities for innovation, as well as for design failures, which may result in recalls, lost revenue and a tarnished corporate brand.
In response to the increasing complexity of today’s product architectures and ever-decreasing development cycles, organizations widely deploy systems engineering methods, but not the document-centric systems engineering practices deployed 30 years ago. To truly understand and manage the dependencies across various subsystems and suppliers, traditional systems engineering practices have evolved to model-based systems engineering (MBSE).
In traditional systems engineering approaches, documents are the authoritative source of the system design. A series of documents describing system requirements and design are produced and managed. Each document has an approval process to ensure consensus, and their revisions are tracked and managed. You have probably experienced the shortcoming of such documents. Most notably they are static and do not adequately capture the relationships between the various components and interfaces. If an engineer changes an aspect of one subsystem, the impact of that change on other subsystems has to be discovered and the documents manually updated. Clearly, this process can be expensive and burdensome to maintain, and it is very easy for the documents to become out-of-sync.
The fundamental difference in model-based systems engineering is that the authoritative system definition no longer resides in a set of static text-based design documents, but rather in a dynamic model — a model that provides a deep understanding of the dependencies and interfaces between the various sub-systems. A model that not only represents large amounts of information in more sophisticated, interrelated ways, but also is easily shared across teams and is more amenable to change management and automated requirements traceability. There are numerous examples and data that show how investments in model-based systems engineering improved program performance and reduce costs. You can review a comprehensive survey of these benefits in a 2011 report on model-based systems engineering from the National Defense Industrial Association.
A few commercial tools have emerged to support model-based systems engineering, but many of them are based on unified modeling language (UML) or a proprietary language. More recently, a subset of UML, called SysML, has been extended specifically for systems engineering.
SysML offers the standardization and power of UML, but eliminates UML’s software-centric constructs, making it easier for systems engineers to learn and apply it. Staying true to our commitment to open standards and ease-of-use, ANSYS (in conjunction with recently acquired Esterel Technologies) has commercialized a SysML-based systems engineering solution called ANSYS SCADE System. It is easy to learn and deploy it, and SCADE System is interoperable with many requirements management tools. It automatically synchronizes with model-based software design and verification capabilities in SCADE Suite and SCADE Display.
For more information on this novel MBSE solution, which has been pressure-tested by numerous companies in the aerospace, defense, and energy industries, I encourage you to view this ANSYS SCADE System product demonstration. Or, if you’d just like to take it for a spin, you can download a free trial version here.