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Understanding design change propagation in complex engineering systems using a digital twin and design structure matrix

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journal contribution
posted on 05.08.2021, 13:41 by Long ChenLong Chen, Jennifer Whyte
PurposeAs the engineering design process becomes increasingly complex, multidisciplinary teams need to work together, integrating diverse expertise across a range of disciplinary models. Where changes arise, these design teams often find it difficult to handle these design changes due to the complexity and interdependencies inherent in engineering systems. This paper aims to develop an innovative approach to clarifying system interdependencies and predicting the design change propagation at the asset level in complex engineering systems based on the digital-twin-driven design structure matrix (DSM).
Design/methodology/approach The paper first defines the digital-twin-driven DSM in terms of elements and interdependencies, where the authors have defined three types of interdependency, namely, geospatial, physical and logical, at the asset level. The digital twin model was then used to generate the large-scale DSMs of complex engineering systems. The cluster analysis was further conducted based on the improved Idicula–Gutierrez–Thebeau algorithm (IGTA-Plus) to decompose such DSMs into modules for the convenience and efficiency of predicting design change propagation. Finally, a design change propagation prediction method based on the digital-twin-driven DSM has been developed by integrating the change prediction method (CPM), a load-capacity model and fuzzy linguistics. A section of an infrastructure mega-project in London was selected as a case study to illustrate and validate the developed approach.
Findings The digital-twin-driven DSM has been formally defined by the spatial algebra and Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) schema. Based on the definitions, an innovative approach has been further developed to (1) automatically generate a digital-twin-driven DSM through the use of IFC files, (2) to decompose these large-scale DSMs into modules through the use of IGTA-Plus and (3) predict the design change propagation by integrating a digital-twin-driven DSM, CPM, a load-capacity model and fuzzy linguistics. From the case study, the results showed that the developed approach can help designers to predict and manage design changes quantitatively and conveniently.
Originality/value This research contributes to a new perspective of the DSM and digital twin for design change management and can be beneficial to assist designers in making reasonable decisions when changing the designs of complex engineering systems.


The Alan Turing Institute

Lloyds Register Foundation/Data Centric Engineering Programme

Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB) General Research Project 2018–2019 ‘Analysing Systems Interdependencies using a Digital Twin’

Imperial College London

Centre for Systems Engineering and Innovation (CSEI)



  • Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering

Published in

Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management






AM (Accepted Manuscript)

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© Emerald

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This paper was accepted for publication in the journal Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management and the definitive published version is available at

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Dr Long Chen. Deposit date: 3 August 2021