For many companies, embedded software has become a critical contributor to innovation. By using embedded software, companies can make their products more intelligent and also create a more personalized experience for customers. In addition, embedded software is a key enabler for the Internet of Things (IoT), opening the door for smart connected devices.
While this is very exciting, it also creates new levels of complexity that makes product development even more challenging than ever before. Complex systems of mechanical components, electronics, and software must work together seamlessly. To successfully manage this complexity, companies need expert systems engineering practices. Companies who do not focus on improving their systems engineering processes, risk negative business impacts. In a study we did at Tech-Clarity, Developing Software-Intensive Products: Addressing the Innovation Complexity Conundrum, we asked companies about their experiences developing products with embedded software. Figure 1 shows the negative business impacts they have experienced.
Figure 1 shows the negative business impacts they have experienced.
System complexity means there are many places where things can go wrong. For example, the interdependencies between components and assets require a complete understanding of the impact of changes to properly update everything affected. Overlooking anything can result in incompatibilities within the system, which will lead to quality issues. Problems that aren’t caught and corrected can hurt brand reputation and negatively impact future revenue opportunities. Finding problems and correcting them requires additional time, which can delay time-to-market. System complexity also means it can be very tricky to correct the problem without introducing additional defects. All of this is going to lead to rework and redesign, which adds extra time and drives up cost. The additional cost comes from potential scrap plus the extra development time spent fixing things rather than working on new innovations. In addition, when development teams must stop working on new projects to fix problems, it hurts efficiency.
The good news is that with a focus on implementing expert systems engineering practices, manufacturers can avoid these negative business impacts. Technology can play a very important role in supporting and enabling these best practices. Technology can be especially helpful to manage complexity. With this in mind, Tech-Clarity has written the Systems Engineering Buyers Guide: The Expert Guide to Systems Engineering Solutions to help companies select the best solution to meet their needs.
One way to can help companies improve their systems engineering processes is model based systems engineering (MBSE). MBSE uses models to define the system. Among the benefits, MBSE can help in three ways:
Complexity is often the root cause of systems engineering challenges. By using a visual representation of the system, relationships between different parts of the system are easier to see and manage. This visual reference supports the design, analysis, verification, and validation of the entire system. The model provides a common reference across engineering disciplines, so that teams may more easily communicate and collaborate during the development process. Improved communication leads to greater efficiencies, improving time-to-market. Also, because the system model makes it easier to visualize the interdependencies in the system, the risk of errors and quality problems is reduced, especially when making changes.
Tech-Clarity’s research has found that 42% of manufacturers report that design reuse is one of their top systems engineering changes. Reuse is important because it saves design, development, and test time. Also, reusing proven and validated components, subsystems, and digital assets will reduce the risk of errors. The challenge is that system complexity and interdependencies make it very difficult to identify what can be reused. MBSE supports a modular approach for developing systems. With a modular system, the system is broken down into smaller “sections.” These smaller sections become much easier to reuse in other systems. As the design evolves, it is also easier to isolate the small sections so that they can be individually validated to catch problems sooner.
A product line shares a common group of base features with variable options to create different variants. Tech-Clarity research finds that one of the top reasons companies turn to embedded software is to enable platform design. However 49% report that designing platform variants is a top challenge. With MBSE, engineers can more easily assemble different reusable components to create unique models for each variant.
Tech-Clarity’s Systems Engineering Buyers Guide: The Expert Guide to Systems Engineering Solutions outlines software requirements that will support systems engineering, including MBSE. Download the guide to access checklists to help you select the right solution to make systems engineering a success at your company, including requirements to support MBSE.
Michelle Boucher is the Vice President of Research for Engineering Software for research firm Tech-Clarity. Michelle has spent over 20 years in various roles in engineering, marketing, management, and as an analyst. She has broad experience with topics such as product design, simulation, systems engineering, mechatronics, embedded systems, PCB design, improving product performance, process improvement, and mass customization. Ms. Boucher is an experienced researcher and author and has benchmarked over 7000 product development professionals and published over 90 reports on product development best practices. She focuses on helping companies manage the complexity of today’s products, markets, design environments, and value chains to achieve higher profitability.