on November 21st, 2011

Have you been working for a number of years as an engineering professional and have steadily moved into interdisciplinary practice? Where you examine the total system rather than simply one element of it. Further to this; are you proactive, demonstrate leadership & initiative, can communicate well, think laterally and outside the box and are solutions oriented? If so; perhaps you should consider that you are indeed a systems engineer. Or are rapidly on your way to becoming one.

The best career in engineering
Money magazine (from Platt) referred to Systems Engineering as the best career in the USA based on US stats data (2009) showing rapid growth of 45% (yes !) over the following five years and strong salary growth. This is meteoric compared to the more sluggish growth in electrical engineering, for example.

Complex Modern Systems
Increasingly complex modern (engineering) systems require a holistic view. Something not provided by the standard one-dimensional electrical/mechanical or electronics engineer for example. Systems Engineering connects all the different components of a system together. The classical example occurs in aerospace; where the systems engineering process investigates the customer’s needs and problems that need to be solved. The alternative approaches are then examined; the system is modelled and the various components are integrated. The optimum (prototype) system is then built and its performance assessed and further optimization examined.

Seven Tasks to Systems Engineering (referred to as SIMILAR)
The seven tasks to systems engineering include:

  • State the problem.
  • Investigate Alternatives
  • Model the system
  • Integrate the system
  • Launch the system
  • Assess performance
  • Re-evaluate

How to become a Systems Engineer
The best way to become a systems engineer is to build up a broad interdisciplinary engineering background. Electrical / mechanical / software / mechatronics / control systems with a strong theoretical and practical background in each area. And then have a good understanding how the different systems interact with each to produce an optimum product. One has to be able to be able to work with multiple disciplines and show leadership to them. Thus communications is an essential part of the job. Tough decisions often have to be made – decisions which because they relate to the entire project – may not be understood (or indeed appreciated) by an individual discipline engineering professional.

Systems engineering would appear to be mainly in the aerospace and military spheres but it is across all fields of engineering ranging from car manufacturing, building plants & infrastructure, oil and gas, mining and transport and in many newer areas.  A great example of a growing field of systems engineering is the smart grid – dynamic, complex with many different disciplines involved in its creation coupled with a high degree of uncertainty and a great opportunity to optimise. 

Certainly true of systems engineering: The wisest mind has something yet to learn.
(George Santayana).

Thanks to the IEEE, John R. Platt for a great article on Systems Engineering and the systems engineering web site: http://www.sie.arizona.edu/sysengr/whatis/whatis.html

Yours in engineering learning


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