System Architecture Services
A system architecture is a conceptual model that defines the structure and behavior of a system. Beyond this, a system architecture is a plan that allows teams of engineers to confidently and efficiently work together toward a common goal.
The first step in creating an architecture is to understand 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 example, if information is to be transmitted from one part of the system to another, should it be done electrically, optically, or by a mechanical linkage? For aircraft controls, the answer to this question was always to transmit the information through a direct mechanical or hydraulic means until the advent of fly-by-wire.
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 on 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.
Specification and Block Diagram
Once the basic technologies are selected, we draw a block diagram of the system, showing the major components and the interfaces they use to connect to one another. We write an engineering specification describing how each block in the system should function and what performance specifications each block needs to meet. We review component datasheets and do engineering analysis to check two things: (1) that the specifications for each component of the diagram are feasible and reasonable and (2) that the overall system as described does, in fact, meet the product requirements.
When this determination cannot be made by inspection, we will build a computer model, do benchtop experiments, or solicit help from our network of subject experts. Once the design engineers, the architects, and the customer all agree that the system architecture is sound, detailed designs of the components can proceed.
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.
Block diagram of a system being developed