Why intelligent systems need model-based systems engineering

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By Guest on 08 October 2014
Why intelligent systems need model-based systems engineering

This article was first published in the Autumn 2014 issue of Prime

New product and process innovations are increasingly reliant on the close interaction between various disciplines, such as mechanics, electronics and software engineering. Advances around IT and mechanical engineering are driving this change, creating a new generation of products that offer more intelligent and resilient functions, have dynamically networked subsystems and offer greater usability.

These intelligent systems form the basis for a number of innovations that are often also collectively referred to as Industry 4.0. With more functionality and the ability to connect with other products and production systems, these innovations open up many new prospects for businesses and offer a multitude of benefits for users, but at the same time pose huge development challenges.

Industrial laundries, for instance, need to work quickly and economically to keep up with changing market and competitive conditions. Long-term savings on resources such as energy, detergent and water are essential. Currently, industrial laundry machines are set up individually and independently with all functions and controls focused on the user experience. Until now, there has been no systematic, mathematical analysis of optimum machine settings, nor have there been any approaches that take a holistic view of the laundry system as a whole. New modelling and simulation paradigms are necessary to identify sub-optimal conditions at an early stage in cross-system process planning, control and monitoring, and allow for targeted optimisation. The intelligent industrial laundry machine is just one example of an intelligent system which is being developed within the Cluster Intelligent Technical Systems OstWestfalenLippe – an alliance of 174 businesses, universities and other partners known as ‘it's OWL’ for short. The cluster is an Industry 4.0 pioneer and has won an award in the Leading Edge Cluster Competition run by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Established design methodologies for mechanical engineering as well as other disciplines do not meet the new product development challenges posed by intelligent systems on their own. Current methodologies and tools make it difficult for engineers that are involved in the process (all of which may have different disciplines) to work together effectively. This makes every process unnecessarily long and inefficient, and can lead to costly changes. Therefore, instead of carrying out problem solving across each of the singular disciplines, workers need to be able to access a common system, which enables cross-domain cooperation with a holistic view.

The results of the 2013 survey Systems Engineering in Industrial Practice by Heinz Nixdorf Institut, Fraunhofer-Projectgroup Entwurfstechnik Mechatronik and Unity, show that organisations already recognise these challenges in the product engineering process and they see “growing interdisciplinarity as the most challenging aspect in product engineering.”

Model-based systems engineering (MBSE) – which by definition is the formalised application of modelling to support system requirements, design, analysis, verification and validation activities beginning in the conceptual design phase and continuing throughout development and later lifecycle phases – is becoming increasingly important in the development of complex, intelligent systems. The objective is to create a superior system model that includes the product’s key requirements as well as the full system specification. This means that anybody involved at any stage of product design and development has a common understanding and knows what is required of them.

This method is already well known and commonly used in the field of architecture, where a model of a building based on construction drawings is used to establish a common understanding between all stakeholders involved in the process, including the architects, civil engineers and building owners. MBSE goes far beyond this and provides different views of the system besides the design. So although 3D-CAD models remain an important and necessary part of the product development process, modern mechanical engineering requires even more information.

Despite the clear benefits of such an approach, many organisations do admit that they haven’t yet sufficiently mastered MBSE. In many instances, the product engineering process is still too document-centred – the majority of information is provided in rigid development documents that are not changed once they have been created. This means that any updates aren’t properly documented and, therefore, changes are not transparent or automatically communicated.

Interest in MBSE is, however, on the rise. The automotive sector, in particular, as well as the aviation and aerospace industries, are becoming increasingly reliant on MBSE-tools. In these fields, the system models also serve as a medium for coordinating with the management and sales teams as well as clients.

But still, there is no comprehensive application for MBSE. Instead, individual initiatives exist and this is mostly down to concerns around functional security and quality. In addition, small and medium-sized enterprises lack incentives to implement such methods and tools into their development processes. If their products are still characterised by mechanical parts, the benefits of MBSE are not so apparent. But as soon as they start to integrate intelligent mechatronic features into their products, then they will need to change their approach.

The aviation and aerospace industries were pioneers in the use of 3D CAD. They had complex products to develop and could see the benefits of creating 3D model prototypes. Large organisations within the automotive sector were the next to introduce 3D CAD to improve their engineering processes. Today, these methods and tools have matured to a point where they can be used even in small companies. All signs point to the fact that a similar breakthrough will happen with MBSE in the next few years. Alongside the German research organisation Fraunhofer Society, it's OWL is committed to working closely with local companies and Dassault Systèmes as a leader in this field to ensure companies realise the full benefits of MBSE.

Roman Dumitrescu is managing director of strategy and R&D at it's OWL. He is also head of the Systems Engineering Department at Fraunhofer Project Group Mechatronic Systems Design

For more information, please visit the it's OWL, IPT and Dassault Systèmes website:   

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