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A Case Based Approach To Systems Architecture And Engineering Education

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Examining the Synergy between Eng'g Mgmt & Sys Eng

Tagged Division

Engineering Management

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.10.1 - 11.10.18



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Paper Authors


Jonathan Weaver University of Detroit Mercy

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JONATHAN M. WEAVER, PH.D. is an Associate professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Detroit Mercy (UDM). He received his BSME from Virginia Tech in 1986, his MSME and PhD in ME from RPI in 1990 and 1993, respectively. He has several years of industry experience and regularly consults with an automaker on projects related to CAD, DOE, and product development. He can be reached at

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Michael Vinarcik University of Detroit Mercy

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MICHAEL J. VINARCIK, P.E. is an Interior Trim Engineer with Ford Motor Company and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Detroit Mercy. He received a B.S.(Metallurgical Engineering) from The Ohio State University in 1990, an MBA from the University of Michigan in 1997, and an MS Product Development from the University of Detroit Mercy in 2004. He has fifteen years of automotive experience and is active in numerous technical and professional societies.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Case-Based Approach to Systems Architecture and Engineering Education


Good systems architecture and systems engineering processes are key enablers for the development of innovative, robust engineering systems. Many product failures can be traced directly to breakdowns in the architectural or systems engineering practices of the design team.

Despite the increased emphasis on systems engineering, most systems engineering textbooks tend to focus on specific tools (such as requirements or interface management systems) or describe the systems engineering and systems architecting process in a rather generic discussion. Case studies are typically brief and relatively sparse.

A typical teaching approach is to introduce a tool, illustrate how the tool can be applied, introduce another tool, etc. However, cultivating expertise in specific tools that may not be in use by a student’s employer adds little value – particularly if the student misses the holistic understanding of the topic because he is focusing on details of the tool. The authors believe that it is more useful to focus on teaching students to intuitively understand architectural and systems engineering issues. For that reason, they have adopted a case-based approach to teaching these topics.

Using topics drawn from history (ancient tombs and medieval cathedrals) and current events (the Airbus A380/Boeing 787 and the Ansari X Prize Competition), the authors present a broad spectrum of cases to their students. This engages the students, sparks classroom discussion, and enhances learning and retention of key topics.

The cases are presented using a variety of media (including PowerPoint slides, audio-visual presentations, or show-and-tell artifacts). The cases are typically used as lead-ins to the lecture, allowing the instructor to draw upon the outcomes (both positive and negative) of the case to illustrate key learning principles in the main lecture. Relevant and useful tools are still taught (such as QFD, Design Structure Matrices, functional decomposition, etc.) but the case studies provide interesting, motivational examples illustrating the need for such tools and the authors find it useful to ask the students to discuss how the tools of today might be (or have been) utilized in the design of the subjects of the case studies.

Case studies are also assigned as homework, allowing the students to research a topic and draw their own conclusions from their research and the course material. These assignments are sufficiently structured to foster students’ development but allow them some latitude to explore the topic. The purpose is to develop their analytical skills and encourage holistic viewpoints rather than requiring simple rote learning.

This paper will summarize several of the specific case studies which the authors use and discuss how each one is tied to specific topics and learning objectives of the courses. This case-based approach has been applied to separate, semester long courses in Systems Architecture and

Weaver, J., & Vinarcik, M. (2006, June), A Case Based Approach To Systems Architecture And Engineering Education Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1203

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