Modularity in Systems Engineering

What is Modularity?
Modularity is a direct consequence of the subdivision of a system into its building blocks. In this way, modularity is a measure of the degree of mutual independence of the individual components in the system. An important goal of systems engineering is to achieve a high degree of modularity in a way that makes the interfaces and interactions as simple as possible.

What characteristics does a modular system possess?
A modular system has several important characteristics:
•It is divided along key functions for the purpose of allocation to specialists.
•It has well defined interfaces that exist at intercomponent boundaries.
•It has functional relationships that are called interfaces.

What positive impacts can a proprerly modular design achieve?
Achieving a system that has proper modularity is an important goal of the system engineer. The results can have several positive impacts such as:
•Improve manufacturing results
•Lower system integration cost and schedule
•Minimized test time and cost
•Lower operational maintenance cost
•Increased reliability
•Ease of in-service upgrading

The process of subdividing a system into modular blocks is called functional allocation. This is an important basic tool of systems engineering.

What is a specific example of a modular system?
An example of a modular system is an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system. It has specific components with modular divisions such as:

•Antenna radiating element
•Transmit/receive module
•Beam forming network
•Power supply
•Digital receiver
•Waveform generator and exciter
•Cooling mechanical structure and cold plates
•Control electronics
•User interface electronics

All of the elements are modular in the sense that they perform specific functions and have well defined interfaces.

A. Kossiakoff, W.N. Sweet, S.J. Seymour, S.M. Biemer, Systems Engineering Principles and Practice (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2011).

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