Here is the problem with many businesses – their development processes and business systems are islands. Every team does things in their own way, with their own disparate systems, behind their own green curtain. Data sharing is accomplished with Excel, email and Dropbox – all parts of the PLM Underground.
Add to that the universal desire for a Digital Thread; The ability to look back into the product development and see earlier versions, decisions, changes, etc. – all with rich information and context.
How do you expect to have anything resembling a digital thread when your team and systems are completely disconnected and Dropbox is an accepted means of sharing data?
What is Systems Engineering?
Systems Engineering (SE) falls into this realm of disconnectedness. INCOSE defines Systems Engineering as:
Systems Engineering … focuses on defining customer needs and required functionality early in the development cycle, documenting requirements, then proceeding with design synthesis and system validation while considering the complete problem:
Systems Engineering integrates all the disciplines and specialty groups into a team effort forming a structured development process that proceeds from concept to production to operation. Systems Engineering considers both the business and the technical needs of all customers with the goal of providing a quality product that meets the user needs.
Lots of familiar words there. Not surprisingly, ALL of them are part of PLM. So, how does SE fit into the Business of Engineering?
Connection to Business
When we overlay the goals/tasks of Systems Engineering onto a generalized PLM process the connections to business roles become obvious. The Systems Engineering team, the Product Manager and Chief Engineer work together on new concepts and technologies. They create the product architecture and perform system analyses to evaluate high level characteristics. These concepts are evaluated against the Market to determine product feasibility.
When a concept is selected and detailed design begins, the SE team remains in the loop. Changes that stem from Detailed design, be it mechanical, electrical, or software may force re-evaluation of the system architecture. Perhaps a cost saving move in a subsystem. The SE team also feeds the loading conditions and the testing requirements to the design analysis and testing teams. This ensures the product hits the mark for performance and quality.
The VP of Engineering oversees this entire dance. Ensuring that the right concepts are developed into products, allocating resources and driving cost savings efforts where needed. The VP of Engineering needs to balance all of the variables in a large equation that needs to result in a value greater than zero (i.e. profitability). After all, we don’t make products for the fun of it.
As you can see, we can bring everything back to a business context. But we need to connect the domain specific data – we need to get rid of that island – if we want to get to digital thread.
Removing the island
Manufacturers across all major industries are struggling to manage the ever increasing complexity of modern products. Universally, these product designs require a mix of hardware, software, electronics and/or firmware. Architecting a successful product with the right mix of domain specific features requires Systems Engineering.
Systems Engineering is typically performed using Model Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) tools. These tools are integrated to PLM in a similar manner to CAD. In CAD, the 3D model is abstracted into metadata and properties that are written to a PLM Part or CAD item. This typically includes such information as mass, volume, surface area, bounding box dimensions, assembly structure, etc.
MBSE is handled in much the same way. MBSE elements (i.e. functional blocks, logical blocks, diagrams, etc.) are instantiated in PLM and contain metadata that relates the elements to one another based on the original SysML definitions (SysML is a System Modeling Language utilized by many of the MBSE tools). This approach makes the MBSE model subject to all PLM Configuration Management controls. This prevents design change errors that would impact a product design’s current configuration.
Does your business have a Systems Engineering team or perhaps role(s) where SE is being performed? Are you really leveraging their skill set and keeping them engaged in the product development process? If you are not, you are not fully utilizing your resources and you likely have issues with your product or process.
Systems Engineering is another component of the Business of Engineering. Bring your systems team up from the basement, give them a seat at the table, and get them engaged!