Rearchitecting systems engineering
As a systems engineer, Maria Guzman once focused only on supporting the design and development of electronic systems that enabled cube sats, radars, and jet engines. These days, she and 20 of her colleagues are rearchitecting the very core of systems engineering.
Late last year, the Model-Based Agile Engineering Capability Group (MBxCG) was formed to develop new ways for systems engineers to architect, design, and deliver products. Like other capability groups across the company, they exist to innovate better approaches in their domain, and then to train engineering teams. In the case of Guzman and her colleagues, the goal is to ensure they work as productively as possible to create products that satisfy mission needs while being readily manufacturable.
The driving force behind this initiative is a growing trend in the defense electronics industry. Systems are becoming dramatically more complex to meet customer mission requirements for higher performance and greater functionality across a broader range of frequencies. The time to develop products is also being shortened to meet mission challenges and reduce development costs.
The team includes experts in software, hardware, product security, and data analytics, and model-based engineering. They focus on a few key aspects of systems work: how to create better product architectures (or mappings of every aspect of a product’s form and function that the engineering teams will create), which new digital toolsets will contribute to better team collaboration, how to effectively transition data to these new enterprise tools from dispersed and varied team sources, and how teams can work in a more agile way.
The move to digital tools is part of a larger aerospace industry trend gaining momentum in the last several years to better connect program team players across government, corporate contractors, and suppliers.
“Gone are the days when a local project group works around a whiteboard doing simple product design,” said Mark Vriesenga, director of the MBxCG group. “We are creating an integrated suite of digital model-based engineering tools that will enable our teams to more efficiently and effectively collaborate through common interfaces and managed version control across the whole lifecycle of a product.”
These tools also enable engineers to do design tradeoffs digitally. For example, with some software algorithms, they can digitally emulate complex behaviors in hardware to test the performance of potential designs. This can eliminate months of producing and testing physical prototypes, in addition to saving significant costs while ultimately reducing the risks of defects. Guzman first learned about model-based engineering when she joined BAE Systems a few years ago. Now, she’s training teams on how to implement it, which, in the beginning of the process, can seem daunting.
“It’s like we’re building a puzzle, says Guzman. “Through the model, we develop all of the system’s requirements, realize an architecture, and then analyze the system’s performance. Model-based engineering is just doing your daily job assisted by a digital model. Since it exists in a shared application, it allows collaboration and support from the wider development team. Our team’s work is all part of lending the kind of support that makes the daily engineering task easier and more efficient.”
MBxCG also helps program teams through the daunting challenge of moving all of their different data types from various sources and formats into one collaborative application. “Part of the challenge in extracting data from diverse sources and correctly delivering it to a common environment is in understanding where data’s coming from, what format it is in, and the relationships among the entities.” said Tom Cook, a data analytics engineer. “It’s important to model data to understand all of the risks when combining and moving it from point A to point B.”
Agile project management, with its short, iterative cycles of activity that focus on highest-priority results at each step, has become relatively common across many industries today. With this new initiative, the team is taking the agile method and applying it specifically to enable more effective systems engineering.
“If you’re developing something and start to do the wrong thing, agile provides opportunities to catch mistakes and wrong assumptions through reviews and re-planning every two weeks, so we quickly pivot to the right path,” said Cook.
The team is also piloting new engineering processes that fine-tune activities to prioritize the highest value areas for program and development teams. This redefines the systems engineers’ role to focus on full lifecycle, value-driven, risk reduction activities.
Other innovations include more effectively managing the complexity of system requirements, integrating product security throughout the product development cycle, and better verifying that product designs can manufactured with the lowest risk of defects.
The major ES-wide initiative the team has undertaken this year is to support the rollout of Electronic Systems’ first cross-functional workflow. Called AS9145, this initiative accelerates product delivery by aligning engineering designs and factory capabilities – all while increasing product quality and reducing delivery timelines. All of these advantages contribute to allowing us to better serve our customers and warfighters, and are a critical step on our journey toward Achieving Operational Excellence.
Goals of the Model-Based Agile Engineering Team
- Identify how to create better product architectures.
- Discover new digital toolsets that will contribute to better team collaboration.
- Transition data to new enterprise tools from dispersed and varied team sources.
- Reimagine how teams can work in a more agile way.
By Barbara Driscoll, Communications, Merrimack, New Hampshire