Systems Engineering, Cutting through the Hype

The industrial world is changing faster now than ever before. Gone are the days when products were simple and you only needed a few buttons to operate them.

Innovation and product development evolves more rapid and with more complexity with each passing month and year, and as a result manufacturers across a range of industries—from automotive, medical devices, and aerospace to electronics and high-tech— face new challenges.

Winning new customers and establishing market leadership in this kind of environment requires producing the best product at the highest quality faster than the competition. To achieve this many best-in-class companies have taken a systems engineering approach, particularly when the product or even the development process itself has a high degree of complexity.

Throughout recent decades many studies and reports have evaluated the benefits and value of a systems engineering approach. Companies have reported achieving from nine percent increase in profit margins to a 13 percent decrease in product cost. In the paper “Understanding the Value of Systems Engineering” by Eric C. Honour, several statistical studies are used to quantify the value that systems engineering brings to manufacturers.

The paper highlights a study performed by Boeing decades ago to evaluate the effectiveness of using system engineering methodologies. Boeing found that the most rigorous systems engineering practices applied to the most complex system enables the completion of the project in half the time when compared with the least complex system manufactured with the least rigorous systems engineering practices.

More emphasis on the system design creates more rapid integration and testing. This results in saving both time and money while also improving product quality. In addition, spending more time on the system design reduces project risk early in the process while shortening the schedule and reducing cost.

Honour’s paper also examined data from a number of other industry studies (including NASA, MIT Sloan Management, and INCOSE). The following conclusions were made based on data analyzed from these studies primarily focused on time, effectiveness, quality and cost.

  1. Systems engineering effort improves development quality – “increasing the level and quality of systems engineering has a positive effect on cost compliance, schedule compliance and subjective quality of the projects.”
  2. Optimum systems engineering effort is 15-20 percent– “this data is contrary to typical systems engineering budgets of three to eight percent” supporting the intuitive conclusion that adding system design time early in the process reduces overall development time.
  3. Quality of the systems engineering effort matters – “this corroborates the widely-held assumption that lower quality SE effort reduces its effectiveness.”

Systems Engineering in Practice

Continental AG, a leading global automotive supplier, has implemented a systems engineering approach to handle engineering within its own company as well as with OEMs and suppliers.

With automobile manufacturing growing in complexity due to the large volume of software-driven features, a typical development project at Continental can generate, realize and validate as many as 11,000 to 12,000 requirements.

By adopting a system engineering approach, Continental has seen a huge time savings in managing the exchange of requirements with partners and has significantly improved accuracy on initial imports of documents, eliminating costly rework.

It has also reduced change-cycle time for predictable on-time delivery of new products and features, enabling it to offer innovative products ahead of the competition.  With a systems engineering approach, Continental has been able to meet target objectives for cost, performance and quality.

TRW, another of the world’s leading automotive suppliers, employs a systems engineering approach in the manufacture of its “slip control systems” – electronically controlled elements of today’s automotive systems that provide safety and convenience features such as anti-lock brakes and traction control.

TRW’s slip control systems combine mechanical, electrical, and software components in a complex system that must function properly to meet the safety standards of ISO 26262.

TRW has replaced siloed, and in many cases, manual product development processes with an integrated multi-disciplinary collaborative process that links product development functions for cross-discipline engineering analysis, design and verification. This in context system analysis has enabled TRW to improve and optimize the final system design as well as guarantee safety, high quality and reliability.

The systems engineering approach has also enabled TRW to reduce risk and liability and streamline compliance reporting while at the same time lowering costs for engineering, manufacturing and service.

What is your companies approach to systems engineering?

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