Supporting Interdisciplinary System Development Through Integrated Function Modelling

Year: 2014
Author: Eisenbart, Boris
Supervisor: Lucienne Blessing, Tim McAloone
Institution: University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Page(s): 222
ISBN: (online publication)


Interdisciplinary system development requires the integration of diverse expertise to combine different engineering technologies and – increasingly often – services, in order to provide users with expected value and desired functionality in newly developed products. Failure to achieve an adequate integration of knowledge from involved design disciplines in the development process can result in design errors, which may eventually pose a direct threat to users and to the company. Function modelling is widely considered a suitable means for enhancing the required integration of disciplines early in the development process; however, a large variety of different and often incompatible function models can be found in the different disciplines, which poses a considerable challenge for and my hamper shared, cross-disciplinary function modelling. This thesis reports on comprehensive research into central barriers and enablers for cross-disciplinary function modelling. The presented work follows a general research approach, the Design Research Methodology (DRM), proposed by Blessing and Chakrabarti. Conducted research comprises comprehensive literature reviews of diverse function models and function modelling approaches proposed in disciplinary and interdisciplinary design approaches. This is complemented by empirical research in ten companies developing mechatronic systems and/or Product-Service Systems in diverse market areas. The empirical studies provide compelling insights into the actual application of function models in different disciplines, as well as the specific needs and preferences of practicing designers regarding interdisciplinary function modelling. The conducted research shows that function models from different disciplines are often insufficiently linked, as they frequently address differing contents and use incompatible modelling morphologies (i.e. structure and form). The central contribution of this work is the proposition of the Integrated Function Modelling framework. The framework is a novel modelling approach which is intended to address the identified needs and requirements for the integration of function modelling in order to support interdisciplinary conceptual design in practice. The framework uses interlinked matrices to overcome the barriers of incompatible modelling morphologies and provide the designers with different views onto system functionality that – complementarily – represent all the identified contents addressed in function modelling in different disciplines. The framework is modular and can be flexibly adapted to the specific needs of different disciplines and design contexts. A particular benefit resulting from the matrix-based representation is that it facilitates application of various methods for analysing system functionality. The developed framework is evaluated using feedback from workshops with practitioners in industry and from expert discussions in academia. The evaluation suggests that the framework may indeed provide interdisciplinary design practice with the desired support for shared function modelling and thereby facilitate the integration of different engineering technologies as well as services.

Keywords: Function Modelling, Interdisciplinary Design, Mechtaronics, Product-Service Systems, Systems Engineering, Engineering Management

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