System-Level Design: A Missing Link?

Durward K. Sobek II
Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
Montana State University, 220 Roberts Hall, Bozeman, Montana, 59717-3800, USA

System-level design is proposed as the set of activities that aid design engineers in transitioning from highly abstract conceptual ideas to detailed designs. It is characterized by exploration of and decisions about the arrangement of components and subsystems, and design of interfaces. While these activities are sometimes included in engineering design frameworks, it has not been well studied. And yet, the results from three analyses of empirical data derived from mechanical engineering student design projects suggests that such activities seem to have a significant impact on independently assessed outcome measures, even though they comprise a small percentage of student effort. This further suggests that system-level design may be a high leverage activity worthy of further investigation. This paper defines system-level design, summarizes the research methods used and analyses of the empirical data, and presents a tool to aid in the system-level design phase.


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