30 September 2021


Blog, Concurrent Design, Engineering, Media Updates

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Arne Matthyssen, Chief Solutions and Innovation Officer, RHEA Group Ask a student to imagine life without the internet and they will look at you blankly. It is almost incomprehensible to them – and many of us now feel the same way. In 10 or 20 years’ time, we will look back on today’s document-centric approach to engineering projects in much the same way, because by then stakeholders will be sharing data, information and ideas via models instead.

RHEA Group’s Chief Solutions and Innovation Officer, Arne Matthyssen, explains why model-based system engineering (MBSE) is the future for every industry.

Model-based system engineering (MBSE) is not new. However, in a world where a project may have hundreds of stakeholders using myriad tools and languages, it is understandable that documents are often still used to share information. Despite what others may say, implementing MBSE cannot be solved purely by buying a software tool – although it does require software, it is primarily a modelling and system engineering challenge.

Why system engineering needs models

Systems engineering means we now think about engineering projects in a holistic fashion. It covers everything from the definition and design of a system through to realization and verification, and does so across all disciplines, along the system lifecycle and through the supply chain. But as systems become more complex, exchanging documents as part of system engineering is becoming unmanageable. In addition, the more documents that are involved, the higher the risk that data and information will get altered, become out of synch or out of date, or is simply misunderstood or misinterpreted.

Another driver for a model-based approach to system engineering is digital continuity. Given the potential length of some engineering projects, it is vital that information remain complete, correct, available and usable. A model-based system delivers this by ensuring accurate and persistent access to data, no matter which tool or language it has been created in. It enables stakeholders to go directly to the source of data, instead of searching through documents to find what is needed, and lets them view the data and information from the angle they need, instead of the angle the document author chooses to present it from.

Look to space for MBSE inspiration

At RHEA, we have been working with fully functional MBSE environments for the early phases of complex projects for many years using concurrent design: initially in the space sector, but more recently in sectors and domains as varied as defence, industrial plants and luxury yachts.

Having reaped the benefits of the MBSE approach for feasibility studies for two decades, the European Space Agency (ESA) is now pressing ahead with MBSE projects that should hugely benefit the European space industry as a whole.

Venturing more into MBSE is in line with ESA Agenda 2025, related to digital commercialisation and ESA’s transformation.

RHEA has been involved in key MBSE projects for ESA and the pioneering work is hugely exciting. One early project we led for ESA was MARVL (Model-Based Requirements Verification Lifecycle), which included development of the Common Information Platform (CIP) software tool to support exchange of requirements, design and verification information (complete). That was followed by the Digital Engineering Hub Pathfinder, in which we developed an MBSE hub for the early phases of space digital engineering projects; this is nearing completion.

And now our team is looking forward to leading one of the two teams developing the MBSE Hub for ESA. This will result in a virtualized central hub to streamline the design and execution of space projects by providing semantic interoperability between multiple stakeholders and their tools.

Addressing the language barrier

These projects are built around the concept that MBSE should let you use the best tools and languages for every task, such as Capella and SysML, by providing all necessary translation between them. An MBSE tool used in the early phases of complex engineering projects is RHEA’s COMET™; this open source collaborative tool was originally developed for the space sector but is now being used across a range of industries.

In the space sector there are certain tools and languages that are commonly used, so the MBSE Hub will include translation capabilities for those through a Space System Ontology, which describes a common vocabulary for space projects.

In the wider world, every MBSE project will be different. That is not a problem as our teams can build whatever connectors are needed to exchange data between the relevant tools and stakeholders. This includes building dedicated tools where needed – such as COMET™, our open source collaborative tool for the early phases of complex engineering projects.

By keeping your models up to date, you can ensure all stakeholders have access to the latest information. At the same time, you can limit access to ensure the security of your data and intellectual property. With RHEA’s unique heritage in both cybersecurity and space, we are aware of the challenges here and have the expertise to implement security alongside any interconnectivity.

Given that industry has been exchanging and delivering documents to run complex projects for decades, switching to a model-based approach requires a significant change in mindset, as well as contractual changes. But it is no longer a case of starting with a blank sheet of paper. No matter where you are in your journey to MBSE, our experts can support you to implement a functional and efficient solution. It is time to say goodbye to documents and hello to MBSE.

Want to know more? Get in touch with our system engineering experts to find out how we can support you with MBSE, whatever stage you are at.