Systems Engineering and PLM: Future or Fool’s Dream?

Tech4PD: Episode 9

In this episode of Tech4PD it is debated whether systems engineering is ready to be integrated in the PLM system, or if it should stand apart using best-of-breed applications. Watch Chad Jackson and Jim Brown debate the topic and the future of systems engineering.

PTC’s View

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; you can now even regulate the heating in your home on a cold December day while sitting on a beach in the Bahamas.

Innovation and global product development grows more rapid and complex as each month and year pass. As a result, designing and developing products has introduced new challenges for manufacturers across a range of industries, from automotive, medical devices, and aerospace to electronics and high-tech. Winning new customers and establishing market leadership in an environment where products themselves have increased in complexity requires producing the best product at the highest quality faster than the competition.

Engineering executives are increasingly challenged to accelerate the delivery of innovative products and manage increasing product variants with fewer resources, while improving quality. The presence of embedded software in many products introduces additional complexities that cannot be effectively handled with traditional engineering processes and technologies.

To achieve this, best-in-class companies take a systems engineering approach, particularly when the product or even the development process itself has a high degree of complexity.

Companies that have an effective Systems Engineering approach in place have achieved:

  • Continuous requirements management processes.
  • Low levels of rework late in the development cycle.
  • One single source of information and high levels of traceability.
  • High levels of product compliance and safety protecting brand loyalty.
  • Predictable and on target delivery.

Video Transcript

Jim: Hi, and welcome to Tech4PD, I'm Jim.

Chad: And I'm Chad, and today we're going to be talking about system engineering in the context of PLM. So to set the stage, Jim, why is system engineering important?

Jim: So systems engineering, if we look at the products that are coming to market today, we're seeing smarter products. We're seeing products that rely more on software and the interaction between software, mechanics, and electronics to really deliver their capabilities. Some of my research recently has shown that there's more innovation being driven by software than by mechanical and electrical.

And to the point, I talked to a tier one automotive supplier, not an infotainment side in the mechanic side of things, that said they're are now a software company. They have more software engineers than mechanical and electrical engineers, doing things like transmissions.

Chad: That's crazy. So another related topic to requirements is actually system simulations. It's not just necessarily finding an analysis, it's also windy simulations, mathematical modeling, also some multi-disciplinary stuff, that's a close topic too.

Jim: Yeah. And it's because it's important I think to get this right up front. To get the requirements right, then to allocate it down to the different disciplines that are going to be designing it.

And simulation is just one more way to help get that right. That's a topic we'll probably dig into later. And there are lots of specialty vendors focusing right now on systems engineering, on the systems modeling side. Tremendous best breed market there right now. Also, the big PLM in vendors are starting to get very interested, the Siemens, the Desos, the PTC's. IBM is obviously involved, as well with doors and racks, you know. So a lot is going on.

Chad: And there's a couple of more smaller guys that are relevant here too. Sign Design is a new company that just came out. They're a little bit closer to the requirements connecting into simulations, which is a good approach. Also Vi-Tech is another one that falls into the same category, more of one those specialty providers.

Jim: And in the context of PLM, hopefully all the way down to validation, but, questions whether we're ready for that.

Chad: Yep.

Jim: So Chad, I'm sure you've got an opinion on systems engineering, and PLM?

Chad: Yeah, absolutely. I firmly believe that a lot of organizations need to adopt system engineering capabilities within PLM. And here's why, almost every single product made today is a smart product. And includes mechanics, electronics, and software. You need to be able to manage requirements to those items.

And if you look at PLM, that is, currently and in the near future it's going to be where all those artifacts live. It's also where all those engineering processes and new product development processes, it's where they run. So, I think the system engineering process is all about integration, it's all about the integrated view, and understanding if one thing changes, all these other things change. With that living in PLM, it only makes sense.

Jim: I can tell you're trying to bait me with that integration. I'm' not going down that path this time. It's not worked out for me. I love integration, you know me, but we're not ready for that yet.

I think when you look at the systems engineering market, the way it stands today, it's a best-to-breed market. It's an area for specialists. There are specialist that are working on systems modeling, allocation of requirements. Maybe requirements come into PLM, and allocational requirements. But then you've got different tools that are being used to manage the development of each.

You mentioned earlier the simulation vendors. That's a specialty kind of solution. I love integration, we're not ready. Systems engineering right now, it's too much to say we're going to tweak PLM and get systems engineering out of it. This is a wholesale change. Right now systems engineering is not entirely separate, but it requires best to breed vendors.

Chad: Interesting. I agree that it's early on. Around the periphery they're innovating to your point.

Jim: My fancy framework.

Chad: But, I believe that there's just too much value to be gained. I know there is going to be some risk. There is going to be some figuring out along the way, but I think the value of understanding, when a requirement changes, and it effects these items in your bill of material. Some of which are software, some of which are electronics, some of which are mechanical. If you keep them in silo-ed databases, and separate, then you just can't have that integrated view.

Jim: Well. And it needs to come back up to, right? If you've got a change in the mechanical structure, you may need to change the control software. So, I agree. Absolutely. Except for I disagree, because we're just not ready.

If you look at where we are today, with systems engineering. We've got maybe requirements in one place, but then you go and you start developing the mechanics. You start and you've got mechanical oriented PDM systems that are managing that process in PLM systems.

You're managing the development of software in your application life cycle management tools. There's just so much there. You're not going to just start managing work in process software in PLM. It's just not going to happen. Electrical, there are tools that are over there that just more overlap with PDM.

So you're going to end up with this ober PLM at some point that then has, what's today traditional PLM for the mechanical and potentially the electrical side. But the whole software development side of things is just not going somehow magically fold underneath PLM. It's not realistic, we're just not ready for it.

Chad: Alright, well, I disagree. I really do think that most organizations need to adopt system engineering in PLM because of the complexity. It helps them manage the complexity. I think there's enough value there, it overcomes the risk. And you're saying, a federated granular approach?

Jim: Absolutely. Or, 'Do you believe in magic?' That's the debate.

Chad: Alright, well that was the debate, now let's take a look at what's going to happen in the future. So, Jim, what do you think is going to be happening next for system engineering and PLM?

Jim: Over the next five years, I think, what we're going to see is exactly you were saying sould be happening right now. I do think that's the long term direction. I think what we're going to see is an overall systems PLM emerge, and probably out of the existing PLM vendors.

A systems PLM that starts with requirements and systems modeling drives down to the different design elements. And then we're going to see different tools underneath that to manage things like work in process software, next to things that are managing mechanical design and integrated to catch that inner play and the changes that you talked about.

So I do think that's the direction we're going to hit. All the way down through design validation and systems validation on the back-end. I think that will all be in one place. I just think it's going to take a little while.

Chad: Interesting. Okay. Well I think that there's an opportunity for system engineering to follow a trend that's starting right now. So if you look at, for example, Solid Works Mechanical Conceptual, that app, includes all the capabilities you need for conceptual design. There's sketching, geometry, modeling, there's some kinematics, and some data management. All in one app, so it supports the procedure.

Jim: Right.

Chad: The same sort of thing with Mentor Graphics FlowTherm tool. It includes some geometry modeling, some EDAM Quirt, some thermal and CFD analysis. Stuff you need to support that procedure. I think the same opportunity exists for system engineering to not make system engineers run around to all sorts of different tools.

Jim: Absolutely. Let's take a look at the consequences from the last episode.

Chad: Yeah, it's time. Alright.

Hey folks, that's right. You're seeing my face. And that means that I lost the last debate. So, let's go ahead and get this over with. I'm a little teapot short and stout, here is my handle here is my spout. When I get all steamed up hear me shout, then tip me over and pour me out. Nice. Alright. Well that was out episode for today.

Jim: We'd like to thank our founding sponsor PTC for their continued support.

Chad: See you next time.