Massimo Usan Wins

Massimo Usan

SDM’s First Best Thesis Award

By Lois Slavin, ESD Communications Director
December 16, 2005

The alumni community from MIT’s System Design and Management (SDM) Program recently honored Massimo Usan with its first best thesis award. The award was created to foster reciprocal links between alumni and students and recognize outstanding thesis work.

Usan, who graduated from SDM in June, 2005, is a Program Manager for ArvinMeritor in Italy. His thesis, entitled "Automotive Component Product Development Enhancement through Multi-Attribute System Design Optimization in an Integrated Concurrent Engineering Framework," was chosen in a two-step process by SDM thesis advisors and SDM alumni judges.

Upon receiving the award, Usan said, "As someone who loves engineering, science, and management, having the opportunity to come to MIT was a privilege, an honor, and an invaluable experience. In the SDM program I learned things that opened my mind and eyes – things that unexpectedly changed me in an irreversible way."

Usan also expressed gratitude for support from his ArvinMeritor managers and his thesis advisors. "I am thankful to my thesis advisors – Professors Dan Whitney and Olivier de Weck – who together with my manager, Winfried Willeke, and my ArvinMeritor mentor at that time, John Grace, provided me with constant support and the freedom to express myself to the greatest extent."

According to Professor de Weck, Usan first started his research as a term project in 16.888/ESD.77J in the 2004 spring semester and then continued during the thesis. His goal was to create a prototype of an Enhanced Development Framework in which Product Development could be executed in a semi-automatic way with the purpose of dramatically reducing development time and cost and, at the same time of creating products with higher performances.

The system used as an example was an internal combustion engine "maniverter,” the combination of an exhaust system manifold and catalytic converter for a gasoline engine. Particular emphasis was placed on the breadth of the engineering disciplines considered – which include fluid dynamics, pressure waves propagation, thermal management, vibrational behavior and mass properties – and on the inclusion of business elements, in the form of a manufacturing cost model. The platform, adequately simplified to cope with the project constraints, featured a bus architecture where the different analyses modules can be excluded and included with minor effort. Commercially available software was used, with some customization for the particular use.

"I was initially concerned that this was much too ambitious," recalled de Weck "However, Massimo was not only able to create and calibrate this model using a real engine model, but he also linked it to multi-objective optimization and created a consortium of companies that were interested in participating in the project on the pure basis of the idea and without any cash compensation. In the end he even quantitatively estimated what the implementation of such a multidisciplinary design optimization (MDO) framework could mean in terms of development time, staffing and cost at the enterprise level."

De Weck said that there are other reasons that Usan’s work deserved commendation. "There is a perception by some that SDM theses are practical and industry-oriented, but don’t lend themselves to publishable scholarship," he explained. "Massimo has shown that this is not true and that industrial relevance and scientific rigor can and should be combined. He has published his thesis research at an AIAA conference, at the Third MIT Conference on Computational Fluid and Solid Mechanics, at the Engineous User Conference, MSC Virtual Product Development Conference and is working on further publications and implementation of these ideas in his company. He is therefore a prime example of the kind of system architect and systems engineer MIT had in mind when it created the SDM program in the mid 1990s."

The SDM best thesis prize will be awarded on a pilot basis for three years and consists of a cash prize and a certificate.

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To view a related publication by Usan*, click here.

*Usan M., Whitney D., de Weck O.L., "Exhaust System Manifold Development Enhancement through Multi-Attribute System Design Optimization", AIAA-2005-2066, 1st AIAA Multidisciplinary Design Optimization Specialist Conference , Austin , Texas , April 18-21, 2005

Massimo Usan