The System Complexity Metric (SCM) Predicts System Costs and Failure Rates



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2020 International Conference on Environmental Systems


A complex system has many parts and interactions and so is difficult to understand. Systems with higher complexity generally have higher costs and failure rates. A System Complexity Metric (SCM) is defined to be the sum of the number of nodes, N, in the system block diagram plus the number of one-way interactions, I, between the nodes. SCM = N + I. SCMs are easily determined by direct inspection of high level block diagrams of life support systems. System cost was found to be directly proportional to SCM. The system MTBF (Mean Time Before Failure) is the inverse of the system failure rate. MTBF = 1/f. The system MTBF was found to be proportional to SCM-2.2 for estimated preflight MTBFs. As is typical for systems that are not extensively tested and redesigned to eliminate unexpected failure modes, the life support flight failure rates were about ten times higher than the preflight estimates and the MTBFs one-tenth the preflight estimates. The system MTBF was found to be proportional to SCM-2.6 for observed flight MTBFs.


Harry Jones, National Aeronautics and Space Administration/Ames Research Center (NASA/ARC), USA
The proceedings for the 2020 International Conference on Environmental Systems were published from July 31, 2020. The technical papers were not presented in person due to the inability to hold the event as scheduled in Lisbon, Portugal because of the COVID-19 global pandemic.


System Complexity Metric (SCM), complexity and cost, complexity and failure rate