Systems engineering applies knowledge obtained from various branches of engineering and science to introduce technological innovations into the planning and development stages of a system. A significant aspect of systems engineering is its application to the development of new technological possibilities with the objective of quickly putting them to use. In essence, systems engineering allows for the process of building, analyzing, and managing a system, whether it is electrical, mechanical, chemical, biological, or one involving business processes or logistics. Systems engineers work to understand systems and improve their features. The systems that systems engineers are concerned with are man-made, large, and complex with their components interacting extensively so that a change in one part is likely to affect many other parts or components. Systems can vary based on the amount of human judgment involved in their operation.
The history of systems engineering derives from mathematical modeling which is the most basic tool used. The systems approach originated from mathematical modeling and could be found in early telephone engineering dating back to the early 20th century and the days of Bell Telephone Laboratories which was incorporated in 1925. The two main engineering divisions were called Apparatus Development and Systems Development. A formal doctrine of systems engineering emerged after World War II in an effort to redefine its policy and structure of any research and development into the systems engineering approach.
The systems engineer has a variety of functions with a specific focus on effective use of scientific and technical advances to plan new communications systems. The special needs of telephone development added to this need for systems engineers. The development of telephones is what led to the rapid growth of systems engineering.
Another source in the history of systems engineering is operations research which originated in Great Britain during World War II and was primarily concerned with how to best employ military equipment. Examples of this include how to effectively use a specific number of bombers, the optimal arrangement of convoys used against submarine attacks, and how to use interceptors against bombing attacks. Operations research, however, differs from systems engineering due to its emphasis on optimal use of existing equipment while systems engineering is concerned with planning new equipment despite any technological uncertainties.
The current state of systems engineering derives from the early 1950s when long-distance transmission systems were improved, and work on communications systems continued at a rapid pace throughout the decade. The first textbook on systems engineering was published in 1957 and was followed by other bodies of literature concerning industrial and military applications for systems engineering. These publications led to the growth of systems engineering as an academic discipline with courses in this form of engineering taught in many universities throughout developed countries. Professional societies and journals for systems engineering exist in France, India, Japan, Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
Graduates of systems engineering programs work in a variety of industries and academic disciplines, and graduates of one institution, Boston University, are involved in work such as developing computer simulation packages for software providers, building and evaluating models for communication, computer, and sensor networks, developing effective air traffic management systems, and analyzing the feasibility of relying on teams of autonomous vehicles for military and civilian applications.
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