Understanding systems key to fixing problems

WA systems engineering expert from Brunel University, UK highlighted the importance of understanding systems and relying on real-time data during a lecture at the main campus today.

In his presentation on ‘Advanced Manufacturing Systems’, Dr Alireza Mousavi, a senior lecturer from Brunel, shared on the history and development of systems thinking and systems engineering, his own research, and real-time systems. The lecture was attended by WOU academics and MBA students.

Dr Alireza shares his knowledge of systems.

Dr Alireza shares his knowledge of systems.

Reliance on past data is not working for a lot of current systems and there is a need to use real-time data to retain the stability or optimal status of the system, whether manufacturing, banking or any embedded systems, he said.

“We are used to breaking down systems into building components, isolating them into smaller units so that the problems become easier to solve. This had worked well until now since systems were much simpler. Now the inter-relationships are becoming more complex, and what we do and expect from the systems we build are becoming more and more demanding. We want a car to keep us safe, even if we drive erratically, or our airplane to fly at any condition, we take it to extremes,” Dr Alireza remarked.

New problems have now emerged and engineers are looking into using new materials or new composites that can behave differently, he added. He said one of his students is working to design a new generation of brake systems for cars, turning from mechanical brake system to electronic.

Making the concept of systems clearer to the audience.

Making the concept of systems clearer to the audience.

He said we need to explain the system, even if it is a technology or a social or economical system, and how to relate excitations with behaviour. “There are a lot of influences, so I want to know what happens when I take it from a stable to an unstable situation. If you don’t know the source of the destabilisation or excitation, you cannot solve it. We must also be able to predict, for example if there is war in the Middle East, what happens to the price of oil. Obviously you want to stablise it and have controls, but you should also improve and optimise the system.”

Speaking on data modelling, he said historical data helps find a pattern to predict or simulate the future in order to improve the system, such as bringing down costs in a factory. “One of the most difficult parts of any simulation is reliance data. 70% of the time spent is to make sure I have the actual data.”

Drawing on the white board to illustrate clearer to the audience.

Drawing on the white board to illustrate clearer to the audience.

Dr Ali however said that historical data is only good for some parts of the system. “Now we can create and generate real-time data, which is needed to base your decision on. Real-time data is created, consumed, and collected by embedded systems, such as census, and devices in our phones, televisions, cars, airplanes.”

“The challenge is to make sense, as soon as possible, what the data is generating, and take corrective action,” he said, citing as example the US National Security Agency that is listening on everybody that they do not know what to do with the information collected.

He said Brunel University is now working on ‘event modelling’ which involves looking at the whole world for every source of information or input data, with the assumption everything is related until proven otherwise.

Meeting between Dr Alireza and WOU academics.

Meeting between Dr Alireza and WOU academics.

Earlier, Dr Alireza met with academics to discuss potential collaboration in areas of research; enhancing WOU’s MBA programmes; jointly offering the Advanced Manufacturing Systems PhD programme; and short-term programmes for WOU’s Centre for Professional Development and Continuing Education (PACE).