Silos changing: Design flexibility for diverse engineering disciplines

This week, Mike Evans, research director at Cambshi, returns to the subject of design flexibility as this 2nd May blog entry attracted a volume of comments. This blog looks in more detail at the issue of design flexibility for smart products and devices and contains some input from the marketing teams at technical applications providers.

Experts at industry analyst and market consulting firm Cambashi contribute a regular blog for TM titled Silos Changing exploring how new software applications enable manufacturers to implement business initiatives for the new economy.

Systems modelling is in fashion. At first sight modelling the behaviour and architecture of a new product looks like an overhead but, at least for complex products, it does add value to the design process by capturing the design in an organised way. Smart products and devices are composed of some mechanical, some software, some electrical interconnect components. Even if the team of engineers is in one room, such a multi-disciplinary design will be complex. There will be a very high number of derived requirements from the inter-dependency of the different artefacts. 

The systems modelling approach will make communications more efficient and effective. Designers will be able to explore multiple views of a system. They can review requirements, use cases, test cases, and functional blocks from the systems model. They can drill down into the design, look at physical implementations of functions and still keep the relationships to the higher levels of the model.

For many manufacturers, the ‘holy grail’ would be the ability to synthesise the physical artefacts from the higher levels of the model. This is the way that integrated circuit designers work. They are able to write their physical systems’ requirements in a high level language that can be machine read. This can then be, in most cases after two or three intermediate steps, compiled into instructions that can allow machines to manufacture the chip. An equally important result is that it is possible to automatically generate tests that can validate and verify the design at each step.

There have been many attempts, some quite successful, to replicate this approach in other engineering disciplines: for software engineers; control engineers and, with knowledge based engineering, for mechanical engineers.

However, the successes are usually in narrow domains and require both industry standards and considerable up-front investment. Many of these are special in-house developed codes. For the time being, to implement systems modelling will require considerable effort by the design team to author and maintain the requirements, systems models and relationships between artefacts.

Dassault Systèmes’ ENOVIA V6 is an online collaborative environment to manage all kinds of product information.  It provides functionality to allow designers to cascade requirements to functional, logical and physical design artefacts as well as test and use cases. Designers model relationships diagrammatically allowing simulation and validation of the design. 

As the design progresses to physical artefacts, whether, electrical, mechanical or software, users define data relationships that show where each requirement and function is implemented. Progress can be monitored on a project dashboard. As change inevitably happens, this allows full traceability and reduces integration time.

Jonathan Gable, ENOVIA Director of UX Strategy told me “We are able to provide a robust, common environment for designers from different disciplines working on a development project. No one company can provide for everything so we have a well defined open interface and many of our customers use third party or in-house developed codes for some aspect of their deployment. For example, through FMI standards our customers can directly use MATLAB/Simulink command models to drive Modelica models in our Dymola Behavior Modeling”.

This is a fast changing area. Previously separate solutions to author, design or manage data for different engineering disciplines are coming together. This will encourage design teams to be more ambitious and use the flexibility of software to add more value to their products.

In future blogs, we will go on to write about other issues and solutions that help manufacturers respond to consumer and business demand for smart products and devices.