MBSE—Platform to accelerate adoption of design space exploration?

These issues will be the focus of my Analyst Briefing session at COFES 2015, Scottsdale, Arizona, April 16-19. Hope to see you there!

Design space exploration, design optimization and process integration technologies are creating value for manufacturers around the world, delivering results that weren’t practical or even possible with older tools and methods. Yet few of these vendors have matched the robust double-digit growth of mainstream CAE in recent years. Can the move by engineering organizations toward model-based systems engineering (MBSE) serve as a platform to accelerate adoption of design space exploration?

Technology synergiesINCOSE, instrumental in shepherding the MBSE revolution, offers this definition in its Systems Engineering Vision 2020: “Model-based systems engineering is the formalized application of modeling to support system requirements, design, analysis, verification and validation activities beginning in the conceptual design phase and continuing throughout development and later lifecycle phases. MBSE is part of a long-term trend toward model-centric approaches adopted by other engineering disciplines, including mechanical, electrical and software.” (“International Council on Systems Engineering, Systems Engineering Vision 2020,” INCOSE-TP-2004-004-02, Version/Revision: 2.03, Dated September 2007)

From technological and work-process standpoints, design space exploration and MBSE go hand in hand. Systems modeling is a natural stage in the design process to begin applying design exploration and optimization, being the first point where a model exists to exercise and optimize. Indeed, the conceptual and preliminary engineering phases where systems modeling usage is concentrated are also where design exploration and optimization can have their greatest impact and leverage on project outcomes. Already, an encouraging trend of technology integration between systems modeling tools and design exploration software is delivering benefits for systems engineering professionals in their high-value, high-leverage role of innovating and optimizing designs at the product architecture level. See Model-based design exploration and optimization and Model-based design optimization of a hybrid electric vehicle.

Then, the MBSE vision of design as development and refinement of a persistent, evolving family of product models—“a model-centric approach providing a single point of truth which is reflected in a set of living artifacts,” as INCOSE UK puts italigns with a philosophy of ongoing application of design exploration and optimization through successive phases of product development, always with the goal of discovering whether and how the design can be improved to better fulfill the requirements captured at the project’s outset.

This is something that MBSE’s emphasis on improved tools and methods for requirements capture should greatly facilitate. Indeed, implicit in the most far-reaching visions for MBSE is an evolution toward formalisms for requirements definition that have sufficient rigor to let the design process become—to a radically greater extent than ever before possible in mechanical engineering—generative. We believe that marrying MBSE with design exploration, optimization and process integration will be the route to realizing that vision.

Overcoming shared adoption constraints—At the same time, as INCOSE points out, “A move to MBSE requires a cultural change and a different mindset”—something equally true of the move from intuitive, hit-or-miss engineering practices to systematic, rational, software-enabled design discovery, exploration and optimization. Fortunately for practitioner advocates, the organizational, cultural and attitudinal constraints to be overcome in evolving from document-based to model-based engineering processes are much the same as in adopting design space exploration.

For many organizations, implementation is hampered by design space exploration not being a standard, established step in the traditional engineering design process. In our view, the work-process restructurings that will necessarily accompany the evolution from current-generation systems modeling tools and practices to full-fledged MBSE offer an ideal opportunity on which to piggyback the insertion of design space exploration into organizations’ formal engineering methodologies, and of course into the all-important justification and funding mechanisms.

See also Design space exploration: Justifying the investment and Design space exploration: Institutionalizing the practice.