Mechanical System Architecture
Often, the first step in the design process is for the team to develop a system architecture. A system architecture is a conceptual model that defines the structure and behavior of a system or product. Beyond this, a system architecture is a plan that allows teams of engineers to confidently and efficiently work together toward a common goal.
Creating a system architecture begins by obtaining an understanding of who will use the system and, crucially, what problem the system is intended to solve. With this understanding, we create a detailed list of functional requirements for the product and review it with the client.
The next step is to establish the basic technologies that will be used. For a system that is to be an incremental improvement over its predecessor, selecting the technology to use is quick and easy and can be done intuitively based on experience and industry standards.
For innovation-intensive systems, where a revolutionary increase in capabilities is desired, we perform technology selection by conducting a trade study. For each key aspect of the system, we make a design matrix with potential technology options as rows and all of the relevant metrics for evaluating them as columns. Then, we fill in the table, scoring each option on each metric. Technology options can come from experience, scientific and technical literature, component offerings from vendors, and from inventive brainstorming. The metrics for evaluation are just as important as the technology options. The metrics need to capture all of the relevant decision criteria: not only performance, but also factors like reliability, manufacturability, cost, design risk, and compatibility with industry standards. Then, together with the client, we can use these tables to select the technology options to be used for each key aspect of the system.
As implementation proceeds, new data will become available to confirm or refute the models and assumptions on which the architecture is based. The architects need to be on hand throughout the product development process to make changes when needed and to answer questions from the design engineers as the product proceeds toward launch.