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COMMENTARY

Perspectives in Design: The Deacon’s Masterpiece and the Hundred-Year Aircraft, Spacecraft, and Other Complex Engineering Systems

[+] Author and Article Information
Joseph H. Saleh

 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, E40-247, Cambridge, MA 02139Jsaleh@mit.edu

Colloquial American term for French chaise or carriage pulled by one horse.

J. Mech. Des 127(5), 845-850 (Jan 25, 2005) (6 pages) doi:10.1115/1.1886815 History: Received January 15, 2005; Revised January 25, 2005

In 1858, Oliver Wendell Holmes published a famous poem entitled “The Deacon’s Masterpiece or the Wonderful One-Hoss Shay.” The distinctive feature of the carriage is that all its structural components degrade in such a way that they last a hundred years to a day, then fail concurrently. Underlying Holmes’s poem is a nontrivial design question that is discussed in this paper. To first order, the question can be formulated as follows: How should a system design lifetime be specified, given its underlying components’ durability? Or, conversely, how should the components in a system be sized given the system’s intended duration of operation? A “translation” is undertaken of Holmes’s work into engineering parlance, both his sound engineering judgment and his misconception about engineering design. Then, beyond the Holmes’ example of durability through structural integrity, this paper makes the case for flexibility as an essential attribute for complex engineering design that can bring about its durability. It is hoped that this paper is read as an invitation to academics in engineering disciplines and practitioners to contribute principles and methodologies for embedding flexibility in the design of complex engineering systems.

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Copyright © 2005 by American Society of Mechanical Engineers
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References

Figures

Grahic Jump Location
Figure 1

Relation between the state of a component and its time to failure (adapted from Ref. 3)

Grahic Jump Location
Figure 2

Time to failure of a component given the load it is supporting, its strength and its degradation with time (adapted from Refs. 4-5)

Grahic Jump Location
Figure 3

Illustrative representation of types of relationship between a system design lifetime and the time to failure of its underlying components for integral and modular designs

Grahic Jump Location
Figure 4

Triad: time, uncertainty, and flexibility (the T-U-F connections), three faces of the same coin

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