By Anthony Gittins, Software Engineer
The design and development of any successful product or system involves a host of people from multiple disciplines; Mechanical, Electrical, Software, Firmware, Quality, Test and Manufacturing. In order for this diverse group to efficiently and cohesively design a product, everyone must be building on the same foundation, or system architecture. At SIGMADESIGN, our Systems Engineers create this foundation. They build a clear basis and starting point from which our engineers, designers and developers can work. This allows for clear and efficient team operation and prevents extra design iteration loops caused by unclear or incomplete system architecture decisions.
A STRONG FOUNDATION –> SYSTEM ARCHITECTURE
At SIGMADESIGN, each project begins by clarifying our client’s Product Requirements. These requirements are the basis for Concept Exploration; looking at various ways to architect the system. When a client selects their desired concept, our Systems Engineers lead the team to create a System Architecture for that choice. While this is not yet the detailed design stage, the engineers do begin to hone in on ways to implement the winning concept.
Systems Engineers build the System Architecture by asking crucial but basic questions about the product. Questions include:
- What are the important system outputs the end user is paying for?
- How will it interact with the world around it?
- And how is it going to interact with itself?
Most importantly, the answers to these questions are the very core of the system architecture. They define sub-assemblies, components, external and internal interfaces. The SIGMADESIGN System Architecture is a conceptual model that provides a strong foundation and roadmap for the detailed design work.
WHAT IS THE VALUE?
By building on the SIGMADESIGN System Architecture the engineers from all disciplines can work on any product and arrive at a complete and unified design. Therefore, the system plan must be well-understood by each member of the team so that time and money spent drives the design down the path to success.
To communicate the System Architecture, our Systems Engineers take the whiteboard sketches from the architecture brainstorming sessions and use Visio and/or CAD to present the block diagram(s) of the Architecture to the client. When SIGMADESIGN Systems Engineers present the architecture, clients are able to see whether or not their Product Requirements have been adequately captured. The architecture communicates the scope of our work, allowing us to be cost effective and efficient as we work for our clients. In addition, it helps clients know exactly what to expect from our final solution.
WHAT IS DETAILED IN THE SYSTEMS ARCHITECTURE?
A System Architecture moves beyond high level concept exploration and begin to put various sub-components in place, without getting into the detailed design work. For example, if a client wants to design a new coffee grinder, from a concept exploration standpoint you would explore a variety of methods for turning whole coffee beans into grounds.
First, you would consider:
- Conical burr grinder
- Mill wheel
- A rock
Second, moving into the more detailed System Architecture, you would advance to questions such as:
- How will the grinder be powered?
- How will the grinder attach to the power source?
- How will the user tell the grinder to grind the coffee?
- How will the user tell it to stop grinding the coffee?
Whether these details have been investigated in concept explorations or dictated by the client, all must be captured in the detailed System Architecture.
In short, the SIGMADESIGN Systems Architecture is comprised of:
- All the product’s major functional blocks
- Explanation of how the blocks will interface
- List of requirements for those functional blocks and interfaces
Certainly, the Systems Architecture will not include the details of how the individual blocks will function. This is entirely up to the design engineer, who will create a design in accordance with the determined subsystem requirements and the interface specifications.
BUILDING STRONG DESIGNS
In summary, the System Architecture is a crucial step between the initial concept and the detailed design work. This foundation supports the leap between phases and should never be compromised. The importance of System Architecture is precisely why SIGMADESIGN has added more members to our Systems Engineering team. Whether you have a new product for the marketplace or need an automated system in your facility, System Architecture is a crucial step in the product development process that will ensure your design is implemented successfully.