Systems Engineering Tutorial

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What is Systems Engineering?

Systems engineering is a multidisciplinary (technical and business) approach to decision making and project management with the purpose of leading the design of a complex interrelated set of components working together toward a common purpose. The scope of the practice ranges from concept to production and acquisition to post-deployment support (operation). The objective of systems engineering is to be involved through all facets of a system to ensure that the end product has the optimal solution with respect to the ultimate goal of providing a quality product which meets certain requirements (customer needs, maximizing safety, minimizing cost, maximizing throughput, etc.). 

History of Systems Engineering

Systems engineering, coined by Bell Telephone Laboratories, was recognized during its role and effects in World War II in the 1940’s. The field became a recognized and distinct field during the 1950’s and 1960’s as textbooks became dedicated to the subject establishing and defining the discipline and practice of the field. MIL-STD-499A (Military Standard) , released in 1969, was a major document defining the field of systems engineering. Systems Engineering has since grown and became a major discipline throughout industry ranging from aerospace and defense to automotive.

What do Systems Engineers Do?

Systems engineers have a wide variety of responsibilities. These include but are not limited to:

  • Requirements Analysis
  • Trade-Off Analysis (Decision Modeling)
  • System Test and Evaluation
  • Requirements Verification
  • Technical Systems Design Reviews
  • Risk Management
  • Configuration Management
  • Reliability, Maintainability, and Availability (RMA) Engineering
  • Producibility Engineering
  • Safety Engineering
  • Human Factors Engineering
  • Systems Integration

A description of the 16 integral mission assurance processes can be found in the Mission Assurance Program Framework document from the Mission Assurance Improvement Workshop. The Mission Assurance Improvement Workshop's (MAIW's) purpose is to enhance the government/industry mission assurance processes, supporting disciplines, and associate products collaboratively with industry and government teams.

The scope of Systems Engineering

The image below, extracted from the NASA Systems Engineering Handbook, illustrates the flow of information inside the Systems Engineering engine. The processes are classified into three main areas: "System Design Processes", "Technical Management Processes" and "Product Realization Processes". This model emphasizes the importance of exchanging data, reports and information constantly in order to establish an efficient and effective system.

Figure 1: The Common Technical Process and the SE Engine