From Products to Systems

Impression of hospital emergency room by Infinimation.

What do a mobile phone, an airplane, a smart hospital and a robotic arm have in common? Not much actually, only that these products are so complex that it is impossible for a single disciplinary engineer to create them. A multitude of specialists is needed to make these products function properly. We stop talking about simple products and start discussing complex systems.

Systems engineering focuses on the integration of multiple functions into one unifying system. It structures the coordination of multidisciplinary teams and goes beyond the classical engineering principles by focusing on the entire Product Life Cycle (PLC) of the system. The fact that sixty to eighty percent of the design is ‘locked in’ in the first two phases of the creation process gives need of this PLC approach. By analyzing aspects as utilization, maintenance and disposal of the system in the early stages of the design process they can be taken into account during the development of the system. This complex design paradigm is taught to the student of the University of Twente via two project courses; Systems Engineering & Analysis and Design for Mechatronic Systems.

During Systems Engineering and Analysis the focus is on correctly ‘locking in’ the design in an early stage of the development process. By performing an analysis that covers all the PLC phases the overall system requirement can be determined. These requirements, set up in a so called Type A document, will be the basis for the initial design of the system itself. Simultaneously the project structure will be determined, which will be documented in a System Engineering Management Plan (SEMP). This way the Type A document will describe the system itself and the SEMP the process of the creation of the system.
The course Design for Mechatronic Systems focusses on the design of the system. Now that there is an overall view of the functions of the system, the functions can be grouped into subsystems. This tree of subsystems is then used to allocate resources, giving management a view of the systems needs. The subsystems are then linked to let them ‘communicate’ with each other. These links, called interfaces, make the system a unifying whole.

The two courses set the challenge of creating such a system, in this case a smart hospital system. This system must for example link a patient to its bed, monitor the patient, give information about the patient to medical staff, give insides to the logistics of the hospital and show the maintenance of the systems products. The figure below gives an overview of the created system and the further allocations of its functions into subsystems. The allocation ends in functional product definitions connected by interfaces. From this point on these product definitions could be developed into actual products!


communication diagram 1

The first allocation of functions of a smart hospital bed. This for the creation of the subsystems.



communication diagram 3

The first setup for the system of the smart hospital.


communication diagram 4

Adding functionality to the smart hospital bed. Notice the addition of external monitoring functions.


communication diagram 5

The addition of the hygiene module shows how the system can be adapted when new subsystems need to be implemented.


communication diagram 7

An impression of how the subsystems can be developed in products.


communication diagram 6

Finally the system can be acquired in different modules, with the Smart Bed Module as basis. This gives hospitals the possibility to lease according to their needs.