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Engineers Are Scared To Sign-off on Smart, Connected Products

Automated ride-hailing services, products delivered to your door by drones, flying cars, air taxis, space travel, hyper speed ground transportation, biosensors to drive optimal performance, decisioning through AI... oh the future is grand!

We are clearly in an innovation renaissance with new technologies advancing at a rapid pace. Systems are becoming inherently more connected. Systems continue to move to augment and in some cases take control of the decisioning process. Of course behind all of this wonder is someone who signs off on a design or part of design. A professional engineer... holding the liability of their work, their reputation, and their livelihood in the balance.

In the past ten years with litigation and high profile cases like the GM ignition switch, Toyota accelerator, and more recently the Uber accident, the implications are high.

Do they have the confidence that they have assessed the technical risk and provided appropriate mitigation plans around those risks? How do you do this when the complexity of the products are increasing at such a rapid rate?

Aptiv provided a great example of the increasing complexity with their "Evolution of Vehicle Architecture" article. The article highlights the increasing complexity of system interactions across the vehicle components and now with the external environment as well.

Another example is to look at the biosensor market, that is growing from a base of over $11B in 2013 to a projected market of nearly $23B by 2020 as per the Jabil article "Biosensors: Making Connected Health Smarter and More Intuitive". What happens when these biosensors no longer just monitor but drive action?

So it is clear that the complexity and interactions from smart, connected products are increasing. As we have worked with engineers over the past 20 years, there has been an undercurrent that has been taking hold. For all of the advances in technology, engineers concern about whether they have assessed all of the potential risks has increased.

To reduce the risk over the decades, processes and methodologies have been created in the form of Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEAs), Failure Modes, Effects and Criticality Analysis (FMECAs), Fault Tree Analysis (FTAs), Functional Block Diagrams (FBDs), Reliability Block Diagrams (RBDs), and other standards to assess risk such as ISO 14971 for Risk Management, 21 CFR 820 for Design Control, ISO 26262 for Hazards.

These processes and methodologies have been effective. Whether in Aerospace, Military, Space, Automotive, Medical and other industries, accidents have been driven down in every industry.

So why are the engineers that we speak with continued to raise more and more concern? Our belief is that because they know that these processes are inherently people driven. Most of the processes require individuals to think of the potential hazards, risks and mitigation plans.

They are often completed in isolated systems, disconnected from the rest of the development process. It is not uncommon that they are housed in individual spreadsheets with little ability to connect a knowledge base across successive programs. Most importantly, it is a human that is manually dissecting the multitude of interactions in a complex system... teams gather in a room and try to think through all of the scenarios and potential hazards. Is the process repeatable? Would you get the same result today, tomorrow, a week from now, a year from now? Most engineers can agree that the process is not repeatable and would not meet "six sigma" quality standards. As product complexity and the number of interactions of a system to execute a desired function increases, the process is inherently flawed and engineers worry that they missed something. This is only compounded with the high pressure to deliver in shortened development cycles, competitive commercial reality and societal thirst for the next new thing. With steely eyes and a sense of apprehension, our engineers sign-off on the design.

So while the methodologies are good, the process must change. We need to enable engineers to have the confidence that every interaction, every failure, every hazard has been explored. We need to enable them to provide effective risk mitigation strategies to protect them, but more importantly protect us.

We believe the only way to do this is to use a model-based approach to systematically and automatically induce failures into the process. To then use these failures to determine risk mitigation strategies to reduce or eliminate those risks.

We believe that the current and future complexity requires companies to move to a model-based approach. The model-based approach allows the system and the system interactions to be defined. It allows for the knowledge to be captured and enhanced over time. It allows the systematic exploration of interactions and determination of the best approaches to cost effectively mitigate risks.

You've likely heard of the term "WOW" factor. Whether it be a great sports play (a game winning shot), a dramatic duet (aka Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper), or an incredible feat that made you say "WOW!" in awe.

In my years of selling software, this has happened a few times, but it is rare. In the past few weeks, as we have worked with companies on the cutting edge of their respective fields, all we are getting is "WOW!".

It is that rare combination of making something very difficult seem easy. This is what the Teamcenter MADe solution does.

It navigates the complexity.

It comes with a predefined knowledge base of the risk that can be expanded and reused.

It highlights the best path to mitigate your technical risk.

It makes engineers feel more at ease that they have properly assessed and mitigated the risk. It makes them less apprehensive to sign-off on the product, on the design, on their livelihood.

If you are looking to improve the way you assess and mitigate your risk with a model-based approach, contact me at or call me at 248.247.0055.

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