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Model granularity in engineering design – concepts and framework

  • Jakob F. Maier (a1), Claudia M. Eckert (a2) and P. John Clarkson (a1)

In many engineering design contexts models are indispensable. They offer decision support and help tackle complex and interconnected design projects, capturing the underlying structure of development processes or resulting products. Because managers and engineers base many decisions on models, it is crucial to understand their properties and how these might influence their behaviour. The level of detail, or granularity, of a model is a key attribute that results from how reality is abstracted in the modelling process. Despite the direct impact granularity has on the use of a model, the general topic has so far only received limited attention and is therefore not well understood or documented. This article provides background on model theory, explores relevant terminology from a range of fields and discusses the implications for engineering design. Based on this, a classification framework is synthesised, which outlines the main manifestations of model granularity. This research contributes to theory by scrutinising the nature of model granularity. It also illustrates how this may manifest in engineering design models, using Design Structure Matrices as an example, and discusses associated challenges to provide a resource for modellers navigating decisions regarding granularity.

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