Introduction to Model-Based Systems Engineering for Engineering Undergraduates: A Hands-on Projects Approach
Austin, Mark A
Date: June 26 - June 29, 2011
In current and future products and services we encounter frequently system of systems and increasing complexity. The synthesis of complex engineered and other systems from components so as to meet specifications and the associated education represent the next frontier in engineering research and education. There has been dramatically increasing demand for engineers trained in model-based systems engineering, systems thinking and associated quantitative methods and models. It has also been widely recognized that there is need to introduce these ideas and culture to engineering students as early as possible. In this paper we report on a pilot, experimental capstone course that we offered this year. A fundamental pedagogical philosophy in the way the course was structured and taught was that “it would be far more effective and efficient to teach these complex concepts and concepts through hands on practical systems engineering projects”.
This hands-on design projects course exposes undergraduate and beginning graduate-level students from all areas of engineering to exciting career opportunities in the emerging model-based systems engineering (MBSE) discipline. Students are introduced to the technical aspects of systems engineering practice through team-based project development and a systematic step-by-step procedure for product development that includes working with a real-world customer to define operations concepts, requirements gathering and organization, synthesis of models of system behavior and system structure, functional allocation to create system design alternatives, formal assessment of design alternatives through tradeoff analysis, and established approaches to testing and validation/verification. For the 2010-2011 academic year, practical hands-on projects included: (a) Black box for Army Transport Vehicles; (b) Integrated Security of Wireless Sensor Networks; (c) Integrated Vehicle Bus Architected for Army Transport Vehicles; (d) Flight path management in NextGen Air space management due to weather uncertainties and changes; (e) Micro-fluidic devices for cell separation; (f) Integrated photovoltaic systems for energy production and harvesting.
Guest lectures were also given by Systems Engineering Professionals from industry and government labs. The students in project teams consisting of 2-4 students. The laboratory work included working with a real-world customer (industry and government experts) to define the project operational concepts and requirements, formulation of visual models, and formulation of design alternatives suitable for tradeoff analysis. These external experts played various roles: customers, mentors, evaluators.
Student assessment was performed by a mixture of short tests and a mid-term exam, plus a series of presentations (project updates) initially to members of the class, but finally to a much wider community. 25% of the grade was based on feedback and assessment from industry and government experts. The key aspect of this educational experience we assessed is: retained knowledge and understanding in the importance of systems thinking and associated quantitative methods and models. Related assessments are students understanding at an introductory level of: How to master system complexity? How to build systems to meet time and budget requirements? How to build systems that can be efficiently verified and validated? How to control risk? How to design safe systems?