What does a Systems Engineer do?
Or better yet, what roles does a Systems Engineer fulfil?
To understand this discipline of engineering, its useful for us to define what Systems Engineering is.
“A system is considered to be a combination of interconnected system elements organised to achieve one or more stated purposes.”
There’s a couple of hidden connotations in that definition of a system..
If we consider system elements to be things such as pieces of ‘hardware stuff’ like electric motors, monitors or actuators as well as ‘software stuff’ like system controls, user interfaces and algorithms. System elements are anything you need to build ‘a system’.
‘Interconnected system elements organised to…’, gives another hidden connotation. It means that there's interaction between system elements in an organised way. That could be transferring data to each other or providing power to other systems.
And finally, ‘to achieve a stated purpose’. This means, someone actually thought about what the system needs to achieve to be successful!
Systems Engineering is essentially the tasks needed to fulfil the above statement. To find, design and integrate system elements in an organised way to meet a stated purpose.
However, because systems are complex and take a long time to design build and test, the roles mentioned above are actually split into more specialist roles.
These roles are defined by a set of organised engineering processes found in ISO15288 to produce systems.
Here is a list of Systems Engineering Roles:
These roles help define a systems stated purpose.
Researcher - conducting trade studies, to understand user needs, market analysis and market segments
Requirements Manager - developing & managing customer requirements derived from user needs. Requirements on big projects can be over 10,000+! They ‘assign’ requirements to teams to be fulfilled and then manage the evidence to support the qualification of the requirement.
These roles help define the required system elements
System Architect - Architecting potential architectures for the system requirements. These could be software architectures, physical architectures or a combination of multiple architectures designed to fulfil the requirements
System designer - Utilising the architecture specified, a designer designs a system solution that meets and fulfils the specified requirements. This could be electrical schematics, system components, control systems etc.
Modeller - modelling the design in a software such as CAD, FMEA, MATLAB, Rhapsody to understand its strengths, weaknesses & performance. This information would be relayed back to the systems design team to make amendments to a design.
This role helps ensure the systems are interconnected & organised
System Integrator - Not the most common role, but an integrator or implementer would carry out the build of hardware / software that goes outside the specification of a manufacturer. Something that isn't Commercial off the shelf and requires cobbling together and then integrating. It’s a weird and wonderful role.
This engineer makes sure the system elements all work together
Test Engineer - Testing the product or system function as per the test specifications and test scripts. This may be on a test rig, in a laboratory or commissioning the product into service
These engineers make sure the system is safe to work and look after it throughout its life.
Safety Engineer - Writing and supplying evidence as to why the product is deemed safe. Utilising the requirements specified, they make safety calculations and analysis such as Failure Mode Effect Analysis (FMEA) and provide this evidence to authorities for certification.
Maintenance & Upgrades - acting in a role to provide in service upgrades or maintenance programs such as Integrated Logistical Support (ILS). Supporting the system after it’s been built and commissioned
That covers the key roles and responsibilities of a systems engineer.
It's usual for systems engineers to specialise in one particular area of the aforementioned.
It's often common for people to jump around and experience different areas in order to become well rounded.
If you’ve found this useful, you may find our Introduction to Systems Engineering course useful.