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20 Feb 2013, Flexibility in Engineering Design

by Communications Team on February 26, 2013  •   Print This Post Print This Post   •   

Ted Carney (Staff Writer), Mark Kaczmarek (Secretary)

After Action Report: Over 40 attendees filled APL’s Parsons Auditorium, interested in “Flexibility in Engineering Design,” a talk by Dr. Richard de Neufville from MIT. Dr. de Neufville stressed the need to design for adaptability in the face of systems’ ever-changing requirements and environments. He described how the “flaw of averages” corrupts typical predictions that affect system design. Uncertainty is the reality, de Neufville emphasized, and flexibility in system design can prepare systems for uncertainty. Utilizing a distribution instead of point values yields a truer expectation in the uncertainty. He also detailed how efficient algorithms that search a system’s design space for “sweet spots” of alternatives can provide more in-depth models with useful starting points.

A premium example was the HCSC building in Chicago, which started as a 30-story building until decade or so after its construction, when owners were able to exercise the option of an additional 27 stories when their business model called for the expansion. Having the capability for the expansion was the “insurance” of the design. Dr. de Neufville also discussed a couple detailed examples within the field of electric power systems, stressing the need for the method of flexibility in design to lower downside risk and maximizing upside potential. Indeed, Dr. de Neufville’s emphasis on seeking out and recognizing uncertainty represents a new paradigm in system design. With uncertainty better characterized, identifying sweet spots of the design space can lead to better evaluation of the distribution of alternatives.

Dr. de Neufville provided a valuable perspective on why and how to equip systems with flexibility. A tutorial in the near future is being scoped out for a more detailed look at these design methods. For those interested in exploring further, Dr. de Neufville and Stefan Scholtes coauthored a book in 2011 on the topic: Flexibility in Engineering Design

>>Download Presentation Here<<

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