Engineering complex systems involves unifying multiple disciplines, which often operate in silos and use a wide range of incompatible tools. Engineering for the Internet of Things (IoT) demands even more interconnections. Virtual prototyping with a model-based systems engineering (MBSE) approach – which uses integrated 3D digital simulations of all systems working together – promises relief.
The ability to effectively engineer a complex system is a mammoth undertaking. “The traditional method focuses first on structure – the parts and their interconnections – and assumes that the required behavior will be achieved by a suitable arrangement of interacting parts,” said Hillary Sillitto, a chartered engineer, fellow of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), and author based in Scotland.
This “structure first” approach leaves itself wide open to conflicts among subsystems, however. “There are so many potential interactions that this approach can’t guarantee that there are no other undesirable or unacceptable properties or behaviors,” Sillitto said.
What’s more, the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) is multiplying the challenge. “This exponentially growing web of interconnectedness is dramatically increasing the complexity, frequency and propagation of interactions in systems,” said Troy Peterson, fellow and chief engineer at US-based consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, assistant director for systems engineering (SE) Transformation at INCOSE and former lead engineer at Ford Motor Company.
German appliance manufacturer Miele, a leader in developing products designed for the IoT, knows these challenges well. “Product features are increasingly the result of complex combinations of hardware and software,” said Matthias Knoke, Miele’s head of virtual product development. “Many functions that traditionally were mechanical have been superseded by mechatronic subassemblies, which augment the range of functionalities considerably. More and more disciplines must be consulted and involved concurrently. Conventional development and testing methods are no longer sufficient.”
Model-Based Systems Engineering
Increasingly, organizations are exploring the potential of a model-based systems engineering (MBSE) approach, using virtual simulations to tame the resulting engineering complexity. Defined by INCOSE as “the formalized application of modeling to support system requirements, analysis, design, verification and validation, beginning in the conceptual design phase and continuing throughout development and later lifecycle phases,” MBSE promises to alleviate many of the challenges facing industrial equipment (IE) companies today.
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