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The Systems Engineering Conundrum

Companies considering system engineering practices are caught in a catch-22. We explain in this post.

Ready for a discussion? Let’s talk about the issues with systems engineering. What’s the conundrum? Today, many companies are making the transition from traditional mechanical products to smart connected ones. Products that may not have been very complex in the past suddenly have electronics and electrical systems like cabling and wiring, embedded software, and internet connectivity.

An Unambiguous Definition

Several manufacturers are now facing this product and process complexity. It’s undermining their ability to control costs, release their design on time, launch the product on time, keep suppliers happy, and keep customers happy. It’s interesting because systems engineering practices offer a means to mitigate that risk. It’s a way to develop an unambiguous definition of the product that spans different engineering disciplines, including mechanical hardware, electrical hardware, electrical systems, and embedded software. With systems engineering, it’s obvious what the requirements are for each. If you go to change them, what are the implications of changing requirements, and what are the implications of changing aspects of your physical architecture?

Here’s the problem though.  The tools and the processes behind model-based systems engineering are very sophisticated. They have not been democratized. Today, if you look into companies that have adopted systems engineering, you typically see specialists in silos. They develop an excellent physical architecture that allows you to get the behavior of the system that you want. However, that’s typically thrown over a wall to each of the individual engineering disciplines after the system design or system architecture phase. After that, everybody goes off into their silo.


Mechanical engineers are off designing hardware using their own processes with little connection to what’s going on in electronics, and what might be happening with embedded software to ensure the right behavior for these systems. When you get to prototyping and testing, that’s where you see a ton of these failures. The conundrum is that systems engineering is not democratized. It’s being used by a small set of people early on, and not flowing down through the rest of product development. That remains an outstanding issue today.

Systems engineering holds a ton of promise to address these complexity risks that manufacturers see as they transition to smart connected products. Unfortunately, systems engineering is not very accessible today, and there needs to be a new approach. However, that’s a different video.

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