A Systems Engineering Approach to Managing Complexity

October 11, 2013 // By Derek Piette, PTC
Designing and developing products today in an increasingly globalized market has introduced new challenges for manufacturers across a range of industries – from automotive, medical devices, and aerospace to electronics and high-tech. Customers are demanding a broader range and selection of products, requiring businesses to innovate and rapidly deliver on market demands. Businesses that are unable to adapt quickly will lose mindshare as well as market share. At the same time, product complexity has escalated as organizations increasingly adopt technology-based innovation. These market dynamics are driving engineering executives to rethink how they build teams and establish processes to address these challenges.

Winning new customers and establishing market leadership requires getting the best product at the highest quality faster than the competition. To achieve this, high performing engineering leaders take a Systems Engineering approach, particularly when the product or the development process itself has a high degree of complexity. Those who don't, run the risk of being left behind.

Systems Engineering enables engineering organizations to approach the design of complex systems and its impact across multiple engineering disciplines: mechanical, electrical, and software. With this approach, customer requirements are defined early in the development cycle and are implemented through design and system validation—from concept to operation. Systems Engineering isn’t just an approach to product development, it’s a consideration throughout the entire product lifecycle, including product support and maintenance.

By making Systems Engineering a core discipline, businesses improve collaboration across disparate teams, shorten development cycles, and improve overall product quality.

The Current Situation

Many discrete manufacturing companies in high-growth industries haven’t had the time to proactively adopt a Systems Engineering approach to product development. Company acquisitions, accelerating customer demand and competitive pressures have resulted in the adoption of disjointed product development processes and tools.

Without well-defined end-to-end processes and tools to support them, these businesses are not able to take advantage of high value collaboration between engineering disciplines (mechanical, electrical, and software). Related design artifacts can’t be used across product lines, thereby limiting design reuse and introducing inconsistencies and potential quality problems. A lack of standardization across the systems architecture and processes leads to errors and redundancies, increasing engineering, manufacturing and service costs. In addition, lower quality products are more difficult and costly to maintain.

Disjointed processes make it virtually impossible to test and analyze the product in the context in which it will be used, leading to costly late stage rework. With no linkage or flow between system artifacts (e.g. requirements, designs, models, test, verification etc.), there is also a lack of traceability,

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