Martin O'Brien

An electronic design automation expert discusses the importance of taking a holistic approach to engineering safety- and mission-critical systems.

Why are more engineers taking a holistic approach to systems and platform designs? What is driving the trend?

The drive to 'more electric vehicles' is creating unprecedented complexity for electronic and electrical systems designers. Combined with increases in variant platforms and optional content within these, the opportunity for error, especially in the face of constantly reducing design cycle times, is unmatched in history.

New generations of aircraft are multiples more complex, with many significant new subsystems that result in an explosion of interconnect signals and software to control the available functionality.

While each of these subsystems can be and are assessed for perform-ance, weight, and cost efficacy independently by various providers, they cannot be truly understood until they are viewed in the context of the whole. Systems that alone may test OK are impacted by the ecosystem into which they are integrated.

What types of issues could be avoided with a holistic approach?

Many examples exist of behavior that results from NOT having an integrated approach. Most obviously among these is the need to over-specify. What option does a system designer have when not aware of the potential relationship between two components but to over-design in order to deal with all possible eventualities? In the case of a wiring system, this might result in the use of heavier shielding than necessary to protect against interference.

When considering interconnection of components, you introduce electrical dependencies between them (they need to be connected); if you are not aware of where they are within the platform context (or even if they exist in a particular version of the platform), you will inevitably make suboptimal decisions.

What advice would you offer?

We cannot succeed with the levels of complexity in today's aerospace world with a document-driven design paradigm. The shift to a data- focused environment in which data can be recovered and repurposed without transcription into myriad functional areas is simply mandatory.

For instance, if engineering data is held appropriately, then it can be easily assembled, recast, and styled as service data for vehicle maintenance. That same data could be repurposed from 'as designed' into modules that are understood and optimized for manufacture. Such data continuity is the only way multiple subsystems can be combined and verified against design intent.

Systems engineering is largely a challenge of integration, automation, and measurement. All this depends on data continuity for successful execution-that is my passion and the belief that underpins our direction.


NAME: Martin O'Brien
TITLE: General Manager, Integrated Electrical Systems Division
CO.: Mentor Graphics
ROLE: Software for development of complex electrical systems and harnesses for large aerospace platforms

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