Start a System Architecture Diagram Early
New product development projects are really exciting at the start.
Even though we know very little about what the final product is going to look like, we can still use a quick graphical tool to help us direct our engineering attention.
We talk about ways to use a very simple System Architecture Diagram to help us get started and ways we can continue to iterate on it throughout development to help us communicate and make decisions.
We can use a System Architecture Diagram to help us investigate what is new, different, or has been a problem in the past – things that we may want to start looking into at the start.
We can keep it and continue to develop the diagram throughout the product design development.
- Quality engineers can use it to see natural break points for quality assurance.
- Reliability engineers can use it to start a Reliability Block Diagram, which can help the team decide on early reliability tests and reliability goals.
- Manufacturing can start to use it to assess their current capabilities and needs.
- FMEAs – we don’t want to do them on everything. Where do we need to do more analysis with FMEA to ensure the risks are controlled? And, at what levels? Subsystem and several components?
Overall, it can help identify what the team should be focused on to control the risks, deliver the right requirements, and create a design that is safe, dependable, and easy to use.
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We are starting on a new product development project. It’s an exciting time, so what do we work on? First, let’s talk about ways that we can look at the big picture of our concept development to figure out what we should focus most of our effort on in the beginning. Hello and welcome to Quality During Design, the place to use quality thinking to create products, others love for less. Each week we talk about ways to use quality during design, engineering, and product development. My name is Dianna Deeney. I’m a senior level quality professional and engineer with over 20 years of experience in manufacturing and design. Listen in and then join us. Visit quality during design.com.
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New product development projects are really exciting, especially at the start. There’s a lot of things that engineers get excited about and that we like to do and figure out, and it’s just the whole project is sitting out before us. We feel like we can just kind of pick what it is, who we want to do or that we’re most excited about. I would encourage us to rein it in a little bit and take a moment with our team to figure out just a high level concept because we wanna be smart with our time and smart with how we develop this new product. Where are we going to apply our resources, which is our time and our energy and our efforts to get the biggest design impact that we can? Something that we can do is create a system architecture diagram. If you search that up on the internet, you’ll see a lot of really complicated diagrams with arrows and lots of boxes, and I’m not even talking about getting that crazy about it.
There is something to say about getting something out of our heads and onto paper or into a model where other people can interact with it. They can better understand what we are thinking. We can better understand what they’re thinking and we can start to develop ideas together. Now, this system architecture diagram, as we mentioned, it doesn’t have have to be complicated. It does work really well if it’s tangible. Now, we could use 3D items blocks to represent these if we really want to. It could be pieces of paper or post-it notes drawings on a whiteboard, and it can be a virtual whiteboard or a virtual posted note setting. Still getting it out of our heads and letting other people see it add to. It helps the whole team to be on the same page with what they are looking at and when they’re examining this concept idea.
For this system architecture diagram, we’re really just pulling out high level concepts of functions or of different subsystems that we know we’re going to have to assemble in order to make this concept a reality. For example, if we know we’re going to be designing a new type of power saw or a homeowner, we know that we’ll at least need a power source, something that’s going to be the cutting surface, some way for the user to interact or hold it, and a way for it to translate the power into a cutting motion. Those are four subsystems that we could conceive of our new product development, and we haven’t even talked to customers or really fully develop the concept yet, but that is good enough for us to start assessing where we should be applying our energies because we’re going to take it to the next step and start thinking about what is new, what is different, and what has been a problem in the past.
If we’re talking about the product itself, are we working with new materials? Is there a different requirement or a different kind of power source that we’re going to be looking into? Do we have a similar product in the market now that we notice we’ve had a problem with? We get a lot of complaints that trace back to the root cause being the switch that we decided to use for that other design. Those are the things that we may wanna spend more effort and time on to better understand as we’re developing this product. The new different or has been a problem isn’t just limited to our product itself. It can also be within our team and within our brain trust. We may have an excellent track record with electro mechanical devices, but what about the blades that cut different materials? We may not have a lot of experience with that.
That may be an area that we identify as having a project risk and some place where we want to redirect some of our efforts to make sure that we design it right. Another benefit of creating the system architecture diagram early besides helping us direct our efforts for concept development is we can iterate on it throughout the product development process. As we make decisions and as we learn about things, we can add details to it and eventually it might look like one of those diagrams that we search up on the internet that are very detailed and look confusing, but because we’ve been developing it all along, it’s going to help our team communicate with each other and with other departments. One of those departments that could possibly use this is the reliability engineering department. They do reliability block diagrams and they assess different reliability of subsystems.
Using these diagrams, they can help assess where you wanna have the most reliability and what that could mean for early testing. We can use this system architecture diagram and the information that we develop from it to also assess what FMEAs (failure mode effects analysis) we may want to do. We don’t need to do FMEA on everything. There may be a few highly critical subsystems or components that we really do want to analyze further with an FMEA to help us make design choices and control risks. Those are just a couple of ways that we could use a system architecture diagram in early concept development. What’s today’s insight to action at the beginning of a new product development project? It’s exciting and there are a lot of inputs that are vying for attention on what to work on. First, we can use a system architecture diagram to get our heads around what might be the most important or what carries the most risk of getting the design done and done well. Then we can continue to iterate on it for other things throughout product development.
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