An engineering methodology currently gaining in popularity is Model Based Systems Engineering (MBSE). Systems Engineering is not new, but until recently the best a company could hope for is efficient document-based systems engineering. Now software solutions have advanced to the point where it is both practical and necessary to adopt MBSE.
There is a real need for a more holistic approach to product development innovations such as MBSE. More than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are being created daily across the globe. Search engines receive more than 6 billion queries a day. Closer to home in manufacturing, the buzz is becoming more like a roar for such things as smart connected products and continuous improvement. Responding to the roar means product development teams are generating more data and using it more often. Now the demand is to use data more efficiently, to decrease data-induced complexity.
If data complexity is the storm rising from the South, engineering complexity is the storm rising from the North. More than one study shows that engineers spend a majority of their time in non-value-add activities such as looking for legacy data or finding the right person to answer a question. If engineering teams can reduce the time to find information, team members can spend more time actually doing engineering.
Narrow compartmentalization of tasks — those dreaded “information silos” — are usually cited as a reason for inefficiency. The way out is by taking a systems approach. As an AAAI technical report notes, “solutions will arise when we realize they have to be system solutions, when the system is redesigned as an integration of people, procedures, and technologies.”
A study at University of South Australia shows the more a company puts early engineering activities into a Systems Engineering frame of reference, the more correlated the effort is with success. “Success” is defined as reduced time to project completion, reduced time in testing, and reduced development time.
Systems Engineering is a data-driven, detail-oriented discipline. Systems Engineers must identify the proper balance between documentation and rigor to make a project successful. MBSE takes this to another level, opening the door for purpose-driven modeling which applies a holistic refinement of the engineering/manufacturing process.
A survey of academic and professional writing on MBSE reveals four success factors key to moving forward with MBSE:
- A common understanding: Think of the old fable of the Blind Beggars and the Elephant. Every engineering team has its own viewpoint. Establishing a common view of how MBSE can improve workflow is needed before launch.
- A common vision: Processes are engineering gospel; comparing current methods with how they will improve using MBSE will speed the transition.
- Leadership support: The people who sign off on MBSE need to stay in the loop as champions of the transition.
- Individual support: Everyone is wondering — but not necessarily saying out loud — “how does my work change with MBSE?” The answer for most engineers will be “not much.” The few who take on new tools and workflows are generally the ones who have the most to gain from a systems-led approach.
In use, MBSE is more about managing workflows in a holistic fashion than it is about specific software products. Likewise, the move to MBSE is more about raising expectations of what can be accomplished than it is about selling team members on the use of specific point tools or processes.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about MBSE, read our whitepaper, “Model-based Systems Engineering — an Implementation Journey.” or download our eBook called Model Based Systems Engineering Key to On-Time Product Launches here.