Grace Kennedy is a Systems Engineer. She specialises in understanding, modelling and communicating the interaction of humans and technical systems.
She spoke to Mel & Dom about her thoughts and experience on Human Systems Integration and expresses her concern with engineers ensuring they keep the human interaction at the forefront of their mind as they are creating new systems.
You need to be able to plan and design your systems such that you’re going to reduce the risk of human error.
Grace’s family are all in medicine. She jokes that extended family gatherings are like a retired dentist convention!
Grace is the youngest of four siblings and while they all went down the family trade of doctors or dentists, Grace knew this wasn’t for her. She is much too squeamish for medicine.
Growing up she was always fascinated by how things worked. She would pull things apart and mostly be able to get them back together again. There might be a toaster or 2 left at her folks place that doesn’t exactly work like it used to :)
But it wasn’t until she was about 14 or 15 that she went on a school excusion to the British Aerospace, what is now BA Systems, that a future started to become clearer for Grace. This field trip really got her mind whirlling...
I kind of blundered into it, but it worked out being ideal for me
Extra discussions during the episode
Future: It’s key that engineers pass on their knowledge
It would be remiss of me not to say that the future of engineering is our workforce.
Advice: Keep your mind open to all the possibilities, and remain a critical thinker
Keep your options open
Particularly from the human systems point of view, because you really need to consider the whole sustainment of life in space.
With his inter-disciplinary knowledge that he was one of the first systems engineers, maybe!
Grace Kennedy is an Associate Research Fellow in the SMART Infrastructure Facility at the University of Wollongong researching applications of MBSE for the Australasian rail industry.
Grace holds aMasters in Systems Engineering (with Diploma in Industrial Studies) from Loughborough University, UK.
She has expertise in Organisational Systems Engineering (modelling enterprises as systems, in particular the integration of ”soft”/human aspects of organisations into these models). She started her career working in Air Systems at BAE Systems, UK.
Prior to immigrating to Australia, Grace was a researcher at the Systems Engineering Innovation Centre at Loughborough University.
Grace is a CPEng (Systems Engineering) through Engineers Australia and has attained CSEP status with INCOSE. She is the co-chair of the INCOSE Human Systems Integration Working Group. Grace is a member of EA, INCOSE, IEEE and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of Australia (HFESA).
She is currently undertaking a part-time PhD investigating the application of MBSE and Digital Engineeringfor organisational change through the lens of organisations as systems.
Dominic De Gioia is the Director of a multi-discipline engineering firm, Epicentre Consulting Engineers. He is a mechanical engineer with specialist experience in hydraulic engineering.
Melanie De Gioia is the Podcast Producer for Engineers Australia and the Director of Ramaley Media.
Together, Mel & Dom launched Engineering Heroes on 20 June 2018
This is a “close” copy of the words that were spoken during the Podcast, Season 5 Episode 11
It is not 100% accurate.
The guest was Grace Kennedy
Grace Kennedy episode
Grace: [00:00:00] I thought that’d be really cool to to work out, how do these things work? These big things I’m sure they won’t let me take those apart, but for how those big things work. And uh you know, just before university I was looking for sponsorship because you know at the time they sponsored engineering students and I remembered looking at British Aerospace as it was, now it’s BAE Systems and they were offering sponsorship for systems engineers And I had no idea what a systems engineer was. All I knew was that I wanted to do engineering I wanted to solve problems I had no idea which field of engineering to do, as many school leavers don’t cause you’ve had an exposure to you know the different branches.And so What I realized was the course that they were sponsoring would allow you to do interdisciplinary engineering, so you got exposed to all of the fields and disciplines of engineering, as well as other aspects such as human factors and business too. And so to me I kind of blundered into it but it worked out being ideal for me at the time
[00:00:55]Dom: [00:00:55] so after you finished studying engineering do you remember what your first project was
[00:00:59]Grace: [00:00:59] Um my first project after finishing studying was looking at human reliability assessment data. And so I was still working within defence, And so we looked at how you collate and how you generate new data, about reliability of humans. And we looked at A number of different military platforms. So we look to air systems, land systems, ship systems, underwater systems. And so really the the point of the project was to build a framework so that the company could get the best practice that was going on from their wonderful human factors engineers and to identify how they could go forward with building a sustainable way to keep collating and generating this data
[00:01:40] Mel: [00:01:40] so you’re trying to engineer human behavior
[00:01:45] Grace: [00:01:45] No Well no not with that one though That was so the point was that, with that with the human reliability assessment is that you know when you’ve got you’re building or developing system, it needs to reach a certain level of system reliability. And that includes both the technology and the technical elements, but also the human elements. And so the point is that you need to be able to plan and design your systems such that you’re going to reduce the risk of human error. So ie increase the reliability of the human. And so what they were concerned about was whether the data that they were using to estimate or predict whether error would occur was correct and and fit for purpose
[00:02:24] Mel: [00:02:24] Wow And so what was your specific role as a junior engineer?
[00:02:29] Grace: [00:02:29] So at the time I was already in academia, And so my role was really to go out and understand what processes they were using. Who was involved and also what techniques and what data they actually had, so that we could bring it all together to compare And benchmark against industry
[00:02:45] Mel: [00:02:45] Okay So where are you now, What are you doing now?
[00:02:49] Grace: [00:02:49] Okay So now I’m I’m in academia and I’m working at the SMART infrastructure facility at the university of Wollongong. And so SMART stands for simulation modeling analysis research and teaching
[00:03:01]Mel: [00:03:01] Okay Did smart come first or did the simulation modeling which one came first Thethe words
[00:03:09] Grace: [00:03:09] the funny thing is like we do a lot of work in smart cities as well And so this gets a bit confusing for people too. And and also we’ve always been really smart
[00:03:19] Mel: [00:03:19] And so what’s your role there
[00:03:22] Grace: [00:03:22] So I’m an associate research fellow. So I do research
[00:03:25] Mel: [00:03:25] Any particular area
[00:03:27]Grace: [00:03:27] So I do research in systems engineering. So I’m the lead of a systems engineering team there which is within the advanced simulation lab
[00:03:36] Mel: [00:03:36] uh anything in particular that you simulating or is it a whole bunch of different things
[00:03:42] Grace: [00:03:42] so in particular because I’ve spoken about the human factors aspect, they were looking at how to integrate models of new technologies being introduced, to identify and look at how to integrate models of the human factors aspects with the technological system. And soI primarily model the human factors aspects on top of and around the technical system
[00:04:05] Dom: [00:04:05] and is this something that you’re doing work with industry at the moment? or is it mainly led through the university itself?
[00:04:11]Grace: [00:04:11] Yep So our project is funded through the Australasian Centre for Rail Innovation. And so we worked with a number of different rail operators in Australia
[00:04:22] Mel: [00:04:22] Oh well that’s very that’s a very up-and-coming busy area as well No I shouldn’t say up and coming It’s It’s Hey
[00:04:29] Grace: [00:04:29] mean there’s a lot of
[00:04:30] Mel: [00:04:30] there’s a lot
[00:04:30] Grace: [00:04:30] a lot of investment
[00:04:32] Mel: [00:04:32] Yes Yes
[00:04:32] Grace: [00:04:32] a lot of investment in the rail industry and infrastructure in particular. And there’s a lot of new technologies coming through, and they’re really big step change technologies like new advanced train control systems and things like that. And so we were looking at this was a concern of industry They came to us and said well how do we ensure that we’re considering the human factors aspects adequately as early on In the design and development. Because if you wait too long it it’s too late to start considering a training and competency when the train’s already running. Who’s going to use them
[00:05:03]Dom: [00:05:05] And it comes down to so the human interfaces in regards to developing systems so that basically humans can work reliably and effectively without creating issues in regards to the operations of the systems Is that is that the sort
[00:05:22] Grace: [00:05:22] it’s it’sit’s both Soit’s about assessing the impact of new technology, but also considering how the human needs are considered in the design of the system.So it’s both well I mean systems engineering is really is there it’s very wide. It’s about engineering of complex systems and it’s interdisciplinary
[00:05:39] Dom: [00:05:39] Yeah
[00:05:40] Grace: [00:05:40] So it’s about integrating all the different ideas. And so my specialty within the systems engineering is the human systems
[00:05:49] Dom: [00:05:49] Yeah because systems engineering seems to be one of those areas , we’ve spoken to a couple of systems engineers, where it’s it is so diverse And look there’s there’s such a large amounts of facets that it takes in, in regards to the way that works. And it’s it’s critical It’s such a critical
[00:06:05] Mel: [00:06:05] Yeah And I just I actually do like that side of engineering as well the systems engineering anyway cause it is such a a broad range and you need to have know how everything works together. It’s like Ultra engineering cause and some engineering is like they look at these little sections. Systems Engineer’s have to look at how all the systems work all together and yeah it just it’s it’s it’s ultra engineering
[00:06:28] Grace: [00:06:28] Yeah about integrating them together, but it’s also about trading off all these different perspectives. So you know, I I guess in the olden days of engineering you could be a specialist engineer. And you could have a head down the whole time and never talk to any other types of engineers Right But these complex systems of today you should be these types of engineers don’t exist. You need to have some kind of holistic view of what’s going on or where your part of the system is going to fit.
HOT TOPIC [00:06:54]
[00:07:01]Technological systems are evolving at a really great pace, and we really need to ensure that humans are not an afterthought. You know we need to ensure that their needs are considered early on and throughout the development. And that’s not just the end users of the system but all of the humans who are involved throughout the whole system life cycle. So it could be people like the maintainers as well
[00:07:21]Dom: [00:07:21] Is it something that’s more common than not where it isn’t considered early enough in the process?
[00:07:28] Grace: [00:07:28] Yeah So with human systems integration, it actually came out from the defense industry, quite a while ago where they were trying to ensure that this didn’t happen. So they were trying to ensure that the human needs were considered early on in the acquisition life cycles. I think that it is becoming better and people are thinking about the human factors aspects earlier. And there’s a lot of amazing work and amazing people do work in that field. But I think that is often overlooked, in terms of people thinking about the technological gains and the improvements.
[00:07:59] Mel: [00:07:59] Can you give an example of when they’ve actually created something and they haven’t considered the human factor and it’s this gone all pear shape?
[00:08:09] Grace: [00:08:09] Okay. So um an example might be of an organizational or human factors Issue is one of tlooking at competency. Okay. Say if you’re bringing in new technologies and your users need to be competent and have the right knowledge skills and abilities to be able to use their systems(of course, naturally). But the important thing is that you can’t obviously train people too late, Because there’s no point. But you also post say content people too early, because they’ll lose that knowledge and skills that they’ve got nothing to apply to and practice with. And so that’s one example of like a human factors issue. Another one might be we look at the transition of the pre-technology state, once you’ve introduced it. And so we consider how do you get between the two. There’s an example of a problem which might be something like,. You’ve got a new technology that’s coming in using a different type of material. Okay. And so your current workforce can weld the existing technology, but maybe you brought in this new technology with a new material, but you’ve said Oh well I still need welders but they haven’t got the skills to weld this new material. So how do you ensure that you’re considering the competencies of those welding staff has to get the right abilities, in time to use the new technological system
[00:09:23]Dom: [00:09:23] I can imagine particularly in large infrastructure scale systems like defence or rail that it’s critical to to be able to get the operators working on those systems. Because once the systems are running they need to be running perfectly, because otherwise there’s there’s massive implications in regards to things not going right.
[00:09:41] Grace: [00:09:41] That’s right. So in terms of like physical infrastructure especially. You’re looking at systems that need to be available 24/7, or as near as possible. So you literally have no downtime and if things go wrong you’re going to be causing massive problems in terms of the operations and being able to service the customers.
[00:09:59] Mel: [00:09:59] So what’s the challenge here for engineers? How can engineers and show that they are considering this human systems integration?
[00:10:07]Grace: [00:10:07] So, I think at the center of any system we really needed to consider, you know, there’s an old adage of people, process and technology. And they’re existing within environmental context. And so what we need to ensure around this ‘the human systems integration’ is that the number of different perspectives are considered, the human factors aspects, the safety and health, the training competencies. As well as the organizational social and cultural issues that you need to consider, they need to be done as early or upfront as you can within the system development life cycle
[00:10:38] Dom: [00:10:38] it probably is something like that It needs to be considered more regularly in regards to that. It’s all about the people who are using the application, and how they use it. So if you’re not considering the actual use for it, then you can start having um issues.
[00:10:54]Grace: [00:10:54] You know ideally, human systems integration is something that all engineers should be aware of. Because ethically we all have a duty of care to ensure the safety of the humans who will be the users and maintainers systems that we develop.
[00:11:08] Dom: [00:11:08] Yeah that’s a really good point. When it comes down to it engineering is all about creating things and working to help people. So if we’re not taking people into consideration and I think that probably filing it the first point.
[00:11:20]Grace: [00:11:20] Absolutely
[00:11:21] Dom: [00:11:21] So what are your thoughts on the future of engineering
[00:11:25]Grace: [00:11:25] I’ve got a couple of ideas really. So the first to me is engineering’s always about problem solving and how we make life better. And I think in the future, we’ll focus a lot on smart cities and the ideals of harnessing these technologies, such as industry 4.0, technologies to make our future systems and cities livable, workable and absolutely, most importantly, sustainable. So I think that’s the feature of our technologies going forward, but I think also it would be remiss of me not to say that the future of engineering is our workforce. As they were all custodians of the knowledge that we’ve gained from experience, all of us. But you know we retire eventually. And sothe future of engineering is us passing on the Baton of knowledge, so that it can grow and evolve for the future.
[00:12:10] Dom: [00:12:10] Yeah that’s a very good point. There’s more often than not, There are engineers who leave the industry and the wealth of knowledge they have that goes with them. It’d be wonderful if you could just sort of scoop all that information out of their brains for the future generations. Because it’s also Amazing how much, even though the technology changes, how much we still need to know about the past. We need to know about how the systems used to work and and
[00:12:35] Mel: [00:12:35] well building
[00:12:36] Dom: [00:12:36] the yeah The
[00:12:37] Mel: [00:12:37] on that knowledge that’s one of the
[00:12:39] Grace: [00:12:39] So we also need to make sure that we don’t make the same mistakes again
[00:12:44] Dom: [00:12:44] Yeah
[00:12:45] Mel: [00:12:45] Yeah I learned from those mistakes. So what would you say to people just starting out in engineering
[00:12:50]Grace: [00:12:50] I’d say that, although engineers often stereotyped as boring people, I’d say it’s the opposite! And I’ve met so many enthusiastic and motivated engineers, and there’s so many problems to solve out there. And to better understand that the world is your oyster and you can embrace as many of these problems as you want to.
[00:13:08]Secondly I’d say, that you know keep your options open. And you know as you heard before, this is how I kind of blundered into the field of systems engineering, because I didn’t know which field I wanted to do. And in the end I really loved it. And I you know I’m a real evangelist for systems engineering. And so, you know, also remain flexible. So my plan was never to go to academia, I was gonna stay in industry, but here I am 20 years later.
[00:13:31] And then finally the last thing I’d say is, you know, use critical thinking but also be open-minded. And so use system thinking to weigh up and consider other people’s perspectives in your work
[00:13:43] Mel: [00:13:43] Yeah they’re all very great golden nuggets of advice there.
[00:13:48]Dom: [00:13:48] And just in finishing off, I suppose in talking about engineering it’s always good to find out what sort of things interest the engineers themselves. So, is there a piece of engineering that impresses you
[00:14:00] Grace: [00:14:00] Um I there’s lots of pieces of engineering thinking like anything that has uh pretty much anything that has an elegant solution I think is quite interesting but I guess you know they call space the final frontier, And so I think space technologies and the space race is, it’s impressive, The technologies coming out. And particularly from the human systems point of view, because you really need to consider the whole sustainment of life in space. Not just your everyday vitals and physiological needs, but all your wellbeing needs as well over a long time. And I say to me this is probably an impressive and fascinating technology.
[00:14:37] Mel: [00:14:37] Yeah There’s so much that comes out of space as well It’s one of those things where you know they went to the moon and so much technology came out of it over the next couple of generations. And we’re pushing those boundaries again now. It’s like Ooh I’m excited about what’s going to come out next, and it’s really, I think you said early on it’s just that that huge movement of technology that’s happening that those changes are evolving so much.
[00:15:00] And . Just to finish off, is there an engineer that you admire
[00:15:06] Grace: [00:15:06] OK… So I guess I’d say DaVinci might’ve been one of the first engineers. And so I think what’s impressive about him is he’s probablyone of the greatest polymath of our time. And you know he had this knowledge spanning so many different subjects and different fields, and he knew how to harness that knowledge to solve these complex problems. And so one might say with his inter-disciplinary knowledge that he was one of the first systems engineers, maybe! And you know he wasn’t afraid to use his knowledge to try something different. And in the end I think he was probably ahead of his time with many of his inventions Yep
[00:15:43] Mel: [00:15:43] Oh yeah no I I love hearing about DaVinci and people are finally putting together some of the ideas that he had and I think up in Canada there was a helicopter. They finally built that. And things like that. So I yeah I I like your perspective on that He’s one of an early systems engineer so I love that.
[00:16:02] Grace: [00:16:02] Yep
[00:16:03] Mel: [00:16:03] Well thank you so much for joining us today It’s been delightful.
[00:16:07] Dom: [00:16:07] Yeah Thanks for speaking with It’s been really great.
[00:16:09] Grace: [00:16:09] Thank you
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