• Systems Engineering
  • Systems Engineering

    The first element of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is Systems Engineering (SE). SE is a holistic process that utilizes the knowledge base of all disciplines in order to properly define a problem that needs to be solved and properly develop a solution to resolve it. Its foundation is the principles concerning the entire system in terms of its functionality, safety, reliability and risk assessment, coupled with the engineering disciplines. It considers all possible aspects of the project or product, including failure modes, and integrates them into a unified analysis. The importance of SE stems from the fact that no cause or effect in a system is perfectly isolated from the other causes and effects in that system. Everything is interconnected, which oftentimes creates situations where effects can have multiple causes and may cascade through the system. This is especially problematic in systems with inherently non-linear relationships, prominently in dynamic systems.

    With regards to non-linear dynamic systems, system stability is absolutely crucial for the successful operation of the product and the safety of life and property. It’s one of the main focuses when dealing with the integration of disciplines. For instance, if you have an electromechanical dynamic system, it’s possible that the mechanical aspect of the system is stable in itself and the same with the electrical aspect. However, when the two are combined, the system could be unstable and cause a failure. Identifying these issues as early as possible through interdisciplinary collaboration is critical for the timely completion of the project and the successful functionality of the product.

    Sample image of computational fluid dynamics

    The identification of such issues has been greatly facilitated by the ability to perform simulations. Simulations can be virtual or computational. Virtual simulations require physical models that you can interact with, whereas computational simulations require computer models and software. In most cases today, virtual simulations require computational elements to ensure the most accurate representation of the system as possible. Computational simulations come in many flavors and have generally replaced mathematical modeling. With the advent of supercomputing, the arduous task of creating mathematical models for systems has been replaced by software with the mathematical principles built into them. Computational fluid dynamics, finite element analysis, electrical circuit simulators, etc. allow engineers to investigate system optimization and design variability without the burdensome task of monotonous calculations.

    A final consideration is that sometimes it’s not enough to have a team of individuals who are masters of their own respective fields. There are many cases where is it most advantageous for every team member to have a good grasp of the fundamentals of all of the relevant fields. This not only brings more resources to the table, but it gives the team the ability to make properly informed propositions from the viewpoints of diversified disciplinary backgrounds. In my case, I hold a BS in Mechanical Engineering, however the experience of working on avionics systems in the Air Force, working in the aviation electronics manufacturing industry, and exploring on my own (e.g. with Arduino) has expanded my theoretical and practical knowledge to the point that I have a strong foundation in Electrical Engineering concepts. This has greatly increased my ability to integrate electrical and mechanical systems and quickly troubleshoot issues during prototyping and production. This increases operational efficiency as well as making the team more aware of all relevant aspects as a whole.