Faculty Profile: Olivier L. de Weck
Course Director: MIT Professional Education Short Programs: Product Platform and Product Family Design: From Strategy to Implementation
Olivier L. de Weck, a native of Switzerland, fell in love with systems engineering during his mandatory military service, which he served keeping aircraft in the Swiss Air Force in top condition. To solve mechanical problems, he pored over schematic drawings. “You had to trace the flow of information and energy and really study it—that was beginning of my passion for systems engineering.”
He brings that passion to his MIT courses, research, and Professional Education work including teaching Short Programs and contributing to the BP custom executive education program.
De Weck kept his academic focus on aeronautics through his engineering studies at ETH in Zurich and working at aircraft companies in Switzerland and the U.S. When he applied to U.S. graduate programs, MIT stood out because of its systems focus.
“MIT really is a systems-thinking place,” he says. “Yes, you need to understand the scientific principles but you also need to consider real world environments and impact. That is really in the DNA of MIT.”
Today, he leads the MIT Strategic Engineering research group, which he describes as systems engineering with a twist—that twist is decision-making flexibility over time.
De Weck has developed methodologies to support decision-making in situations—such as planning the life cycles of airplanes—so engineering plans can be flexible over time. He and a colleague recently won an International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) paper of the year award for a study on how Xerox could make decisions about adding new features to their large-scale digital printing systems. The company needed a method to weigh the benefits vs. the costs of integrating new features into an already complex system. "Their process resulted in specific recommendations that were implemented and very successful," he said.
De Weck has worked over the past six years with MIT Professional Education’s custom BP program and has taught short courses in the summer. De Weck’s Product Platform and Product Family Design course was developed for a professional audience and now MIT students are asking for their own version.
The successful course engages professionals in the frameworks, methodologies, and tools they can use to develop and manufacture a family of products derived from a common platform.
His MIT Professional Education engagements have benefitted him, de Weck says. “As a teacher, it has made me think more about hands-on learning and two-way communication. Executives like to be active and they have a lot to share,” he says. “It also made me think about the relevance to industry. Just theory alone will not fly—you need real examples and the level of expectation is quite high.”
About Professor de Weck
Associate Fellow of AIAA
Associate Editor for the Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets
Two best paper awards at the 2004 INCOSE Systems Engineering conference
AIAA Outstanding Service Award, 2007
Outstanding paper award from the journal Systems Engineering, 2007
Dipl. Ingenieur mA, Industrial Engineering, 1993, ETH Zurich, Switzerland
Working with the BP Projects & Engineering Academy first as a faculty member and now as a term director in the program, has afforded de Weck the opportunity to meet with senior technical managers, the company, and the industry on an ongoing basis. And the benefits for the companies, which can create an influential internal community of advanced learners, are substantial too.
“The beauty of professional education right now is that you can create a small ecosystem around the topics—you have current classes and alumni,” de Weck says. “In 2012 we are planning to have a workshop on product family and platforms and we are inviting former participants back. And we are thinking about writing a book together with them. The potential is huge to create an ecosystem that is a win-win for everybody.”
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De Weck and co-authors win best paper award--MIT News article, June 17, 2011 featuring Professor de Weck.