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Systems Engineering: Out With the Old, in With the New…?

The limitations of traditional System Engineering methodologies are becoming more and more apparent as they’re subjected to an onslaught by the ever-growing complexity of today’s systems – will the advances being made by Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) inevitably come to the rescue?

If you’re involved with systems engineering, you’ll be able to appreciate these four key points:

System complexity is growing quicker than our traditional methodologies are able to handle.

Managing parts of problems instead of the complete architecture means that systems end up becoming expensive, overly complex and difficult to test.

Defects are more costly – there’s an increased risk of finding problems too late in the development cycle when they’re particularly expensive to fix.

Knowledge of past successes and failures isn’t being shared between lifecycle phases and projects meaning that we’re not learning from our experiences.

Basically, we’re pushing beyond the limits of the siloed world that we helped build to solve engineering problems. On top of this, they’re becoming tightly coupled – it’s not just software, hardware and electrical engineers that are contributing to a complete system, there’s also silos for supply chain experts, customers and functional safety experts to name just a few of the new diverse players and environments of this ever-more connected world. These silos are the very thing that’s causing us to overlook some of our most critical concerns. Being able to address those critical concerns is the reason why systems engineering has come about, so systems engineering itself is evolving to ensure we’re still able to address that core principle.

In order to keep pace with the increasing scale of challenges presented by complex systems, the systems engineering methodology itself has developed significantly over the past few decades. However, one thing that has stayed the same is the fundamental role of the systems engineer as a translator – resolving trans-disciplinary system engineering problems to ensure we get the best from each discipline. Yesteryear gives us a great example of this; when systems were mainly electro-mechanical with a bit of code in a microprocessor, the systems engineers role was to align the software, hardware and mechanical silos understanding of the problem and the proposed solution. Historically, communication between the silos was an afterthought and delivered in the form of drawings and document. But now the industry’s evolving by placing more emphasis on communications and the interactions of system components with a Model-Based approach.

Goodbye Documents … Hello Models

With systems becoming more software-intensive, complexity has amplified. This is true for the challenges with communication between engineers too. To fix the problem, engineers originally applied Unified Modelling Language (UML) to systems – but UML was only ever able to work within the realm of software, so hardware and mechanical engineers didn’t see the communication improvements that they would have liked.

To overcome the software-centric restrictions of UML, a tailored solution was developed – the System Modeling Language (SysML). Since its introduction, SysML has become a powerful communication mechanism – with its diagram-centric approach consisting of nine standard diagram types; seven taken directly from UML, and two new types for requirements and parametric specifications – that allow systems engineers to create information models to capture, analyse and communicate the knowledge required to develop a system.

The CATIA No Magic Way

Focussing in on the fact that systems engineering is a trans-disciplinary field, using a common language is key. When we talk about a model in the CATIA Magic toolset, it’s not simply a collection of diagrams and tables etc. but a single complete and consistent digital representation of the information. If an element appears in multiple places then changing it on one place changes it everywhere.

The kind of elements that can be modelled include requirements, system structure, system behaviour and parametric constraints. The CATIA Magic toolset was developed as a standards-driven solution based on the Object Management Group (OMG) languages including:

Unified Modeling Language (UML)
Systems Modeling Language (SysML)
Unified Architecture Framework (UAF)
This allows systems to be effectively managed and visually communicated to internal and external stakeholders alike.

Another strength of the CATIA Magic toolset is the ability to perform simulation. Simulating the system model allows you to validate it early in the development lifecycle therefore discovering defects when they are most cost effective to resolve before committing to detailed design. And that’s where the real value of the CATIA Magic toolset comes in; the MBSE approach offered by the CATIA Magic toolset allows you to enhance the performance of your system by connecting the architecture with the analysis. And furthermore, you’re able to work to a true V-model approach by connecting the As-Planned, As-Designed and As-Tested of your systems too.

Taking Digital Transformation Step-By-Step

When we look at the example of another paradigm, Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), it took the industry a while to warm to the idea before it became adopted by the mainstream. This maturation of principle through to mainstream adoption is what we’re experiencing with MBSE today, but we’re already on a much steeper curve with a lot of interest coming from the automotive, medical device and high-tech sectors being driven by the likes of Tesla, Amazon and SpaceX.

Inevitably, there’s a bit of apprehension with anything that’s new, and MBSE is no different. Some systems engineers have expressed concerns about having to take on a whole new language and having to change today’s way of working. When those concerns are viewed alongside how MBSE is an evolutionary step to better represent the knowledge within their systems, the benefits to both systems engineers themselves and the organisations they’re a part of outweigh the concerns.

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