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Introduction to quantitative engineering design methods via controls engineering

  • Briana M. Lucero (a1), Matthew J. Adams (a2) and Cameron J. Turner (a3)


Functional modeling is an effective method of depicting products in the design process. Using this approach, product architecture, concept generation, and physical modeling all contribute to the design process to generate a result full of quality and functionality. The functional basis approach provides taxonomy of uniform vocabulary to produce function structures with consistent functions (verbs) and flows (nouns). Material and energy flows dominate function structures in the mechanical engineering domain with only a small percentage including signal flows. Research suggests that the signal flow gap is due to the requirement of “carrier” flows of either material or energy to transport the signals between functions. This research suggests that incorporating controls engineering methodologies may increase the number of signal flows in function structures. We show correlations between the functional modeling and controls engineering in four facets: schematic similarities, performance matching through flows, mathematical function creation using bond graphs, and isomorphic matching of the aforementioned characteristics allows for analogical solutions. Controls systems use block diagrams to represent the sequential steps of the system. These block diagrams parallel the function structures of engineering design. Performance metrics between the two domains can be complimentary when decomposed down to nondimensional engineering units. Mathematical functions of the actions in controls systems can resemble the functional basis functions with bond graphs by identifying characteristic behavior of the functions on the flows. Isomorphic matching, using the schematic diagrams, produces analogies based upon similar functionality and target performance metrics. These four similarities bridge the mechanical and electrical domains via the controls domain. We provide concepts and contextualization for the methodology using domain-agnostic examples. We conclude with suggestion of pathways forward for this preliminary research.

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Corresponding author

Reprint requests to: Briana Lucero, Applied Engineering Technologies, Los Alamos National Laboratory, MS-H821, P.O. Box 1663, Los Alamos, NM 87545, USA. E-mail:


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