Flikkema PG. 2012 - Approaching the design of complex engineered systems: a model-based approach informed by systems thinking

Flikkema PG. 2012. Approaching the design of complex engineered systems: a model-based approach informed by systems thinking. Proceedings of the 2012 American Society for Engineering Education-Pacific South West Section; 2012 Apr 19-21; San Luis Obispo. Cal Poly State University (CA).

In the last decade there has been rapidly increasing interest in systems thinking in engineering design. Roughly, systems thinking labels how we should approach the understanding of engineering design, especially for complex engineered systems; such systems are characterized by their large scale, layered complexity and the intrinsic role of human individuals and organizations in their operation and evolution. The heightened interest in systems thinking is motivated by the recognition that this century’s challenges might require engineered systems with unprecedented levels of scale and complexity. How should engineering educators help students learn how to conceive of these systems and, more importantly, approach the design and analysis of them? While strides have been made in developing students’ awareness and appreciation of systems thinking, progress in using it in the practice of engineering design has been lacking. At the same time, the tool-based discipline of model-based systems engineering (MBSE) has been steadily advancing in the last decade in part due to leveraging software design tools. This paper describes a new interdisciplinary senior- and graduate-level course that motivates and describes systems thinking, and grounds it in practice via a design study using modern MBSE tools. The course consists of three focus areas and an integrative design study. The first focus area motivates and provides an overview of the study of complex engineered systems, and spans roughly the first three weeks of a semester. The second exposes students to a sampling of conceptual design techniques, such as the house of quality and failure mode and effects analysis. The third focus area exposes students to modern MBSE tools. The design studies provide project-based experiential learning of the content of the three focus areas and allow exploration of the strengths and limitations of design techniques and tools. Finally, we present preliminary results on student learning, attitudes, and perceptions.