Modernizing Requirements Management with Digital Product Traceability

Written By: Steve Partridge
  • 10/12/2017

Requirements management has never been a walk in the park. But it’s more challenging than ever to ensure products meet requirements and to determine the impact of product changes throughout the product lifecycle. The answer is ensuring Digital Product Traceability where requirements are managed and changes are communicated automatically. With this system in place, manufacturers can realize new capabilities even as they better manage requirements.

Why Requirements Management is Challenging

Customers are rarely able to clearly articulate what they want or need up front, so they depend on an iterative process to refine their understanding and needs. Now combine this with the growing complexity of the products manufacturers are creating and the range of internal and external stakeholders involved in product development. The result is that a simple change can quickly impact a mindboggling number of dependencies and require an inordinate amount of communication across multiple channels. 

The Pitfalls of Lack of Traceability

Not being able to assure traceability can make the manufacturing process all the more challenging. It’s not always easy to identify all areas impacted by a change, especially in the case of complex, sophisticated products involving more developers and more disciplines. Consider the example of a change to the thickness of a PC board embedded in a complex product. This change impacts mechanical design, electrical design, and perhaps even software behaviors. Without traceability, it’s virtually impossible to understand the full impact of that change and make all relevant parties aware.

Enter Digital Product Traceability

Digital Product Traceability can help effectively address these shortcomings by making it possible to digitally navigate a product and all its information throughout the product lifecycle. This spans everything from design artifacts and decision sets to field documentation and usage data. 

Calling upon this information, stakeholders can review, in context, a product’s entire design, including its history. In turn, they can determine things such as where a downstream issue first arose. Conversely, by navigating trace links, they are also able to look forward to understand the potential impact of a design change on the product.


Evaluating the Impact of Changes

Let’s explore how Digital Product Traceability makes it easier to evaluate the impact of changes. Think of a requirement for a car that states “Must be able to stop vehicle.” This requirement is satisfied by the function ‘Decelerate,’ implemented in the ‘Braking System,’ which contains a number of parts such as the brake assembly (rotors, pads, calipers, etc.). The braking system also communicates with the Engine Management System (EMS). Since the braking system is a safety-critical system, it will be associated with certain Hazards & Risks, and need to meet an ASIL level and safety goal.

If the car manufacturer has implemented Digital Product Traceability and the requirement for “Must be able to stop the vehicle” changes, stakeholders – such as design engineers – can easily trace all elements. As a result, they can determine that the function ‘Decelerate’ needs to be updated, and that they must also make changes to the braking system. By continuing to follow the Digital Product Traceability, they will ultimately see which physical parts might need to be updated, and the impact on related systems like the EMS. In turn, they can re-evaluate and ensure that safety goals can be satisfied in spite of the changes. Without Digital Product Traceability, these engineers would be at the mercy of a manual process and trace matrices – and hope that they are working with the correct version of the data.

Enabling Compliance With Industry Standards

When designing safety-critical systems, a lack of traceability makes it difficult to prove risks have been mitigated and safety goals have been achieved. While organizations can manage their functional safety in a spreadsheet, it takes longer and requires more of developers to prove compliance during an audit. In fact, the manufacturer is at risk of failing an audit. On the other hand, with traceability, it’s easy and intuitive to navigate through product structures and the compliance checklist.

Traceability from one process to another and one artifact to another even supports compliance with non-safety-related standards and initiatives dedicated to process maturity. Take the Automotive SPICE® Process Assessment Model. By calling upon traceability, an automotive manufacturer could confidently and fully automate its processes in compliance with this standard.

Identifying the Root Cause of Product Problems in the Field 

Traceability also simplifies the process of determining the main reason for product issues by essentially providing a breadcrumb that allows product stakeholders to retrace their steps, so to speak. As an example, imagine a diabetes patient is using an epipen at home but still suffering symptoms of diabetes. The manufacturer can trace back to determine what parts and components implement the requirement – in this case, the dispensing function. By then focusing on the injection button, needle, and measuring gauge, it could quickly determine what is causing the pen to dispense the wrong amount of insulin.

Enhancing MBSE and IoT Design

Products designed for the Internet of Things (IoT) need to operate in an environment that is a system of systems, many of which are black-box systems. To do this effectively many organizations have adopted a model-based systems engineering (MBSE) approach to systems design. This enables the modeling of a system of systems and facilitates systems design within this context. When IoT, MBSE, and Digital Product Traceability are combined, an organization can extend the reach of Digital Product Traceability beyond the boundaries of its own systems. Instead, it can apply all the benefits of Digital Product Traceability to the external systems of system from the IoT domain.

Here’s how this plays out in the real world. A tractor manufacturer produced a frontloader but did not specify a requirement for bucket capacity. This impacted other areas of the tractor design, including center of gravity, size, and materials to be used. 

Calling upon the IoT, the manufacturer was able to inform requirements based on real usage patterns in the field. After observing the average weights being placed in the bucket, it created a better product design by tracing back to understand the impacts throughout the tractor. It modified its design by indicating the right-sized bucket and more accurately placing the center of gravity. Gathering product data from the field also helped the manufacturer uncover a new market for a lower-cost, lower-capacity bucket in certain areas of world.

Getting Started With Digital Product Traceability 

To take advantage of Digital Product Traceability, manufacturers need a ‘system of knowledge’ that connects the many different engineering systems and establishes links between the data each system manages and stores. Making this system of knowledge usable requires a user interface so stakeholders can engage or work with the right set of data from different systems in the correct context. This is essential to establishing relationships between data without needing to access and navigate more than one system.

The first step to achieving Digital Product Traceability is to create a digital definition of your product. Begin collecting, storing, and managing the appropriate engineering artifacts in an enterprise system such as Windchill RV&S or Windchill. Once you have compiled your product definition and documentation in an enterprise system, you can call upon industry-leading capabilities for establishing and managing the trace links between this data. Again, systems like Windchill RV&S and Windchill support this. These two steps lay the foundation for effective Digital Product Traceability.

To enable Digital Product Traceability, it is imperative to take small steps on your Digital Engineering Transformational Journey. Discover how you can begin your own journey

Modernizing Requirements Management

  • Windchill
  • Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)
  • Electronics and High Tech
  • Digital Transformation

About the Author

Steve Partridge

Steve Partridge is a director of solution management at PTC. Steve has almost 15 years of experience working directly with customers to understand their business challenges, facilitate business transformation, and enabling customer success using Windchill RV&S . From these experiences, Steve demonstrates a broad spectrum of product and market knowledge.

As the director of solution management, Steve is responsible for developing, implementing, and guiding an innovative product strategy to deliver a market leading product, and optimize PTC solution offerings for maximum business value to PTC customers.