Modeling architecture with room to grow

In the last post we looked at the characteristics and objectives of modeling architecture.  In this post, we will look at one method for satisfying those requirements.

Shell games, the parent and child relationship

A system level model is built from multiple levels of integration models.

  • Functional (child) model: A model that is comprised of function code, e.g. a plant or control model.
  • Integration (parent) model: A model that built from multiple functional models.  The integration model does not have functional code but may contain execution order (scheduling) elements.


In this example, there are three functional (child) models; their interface is defined through the use of “ports” and have the descriptive names of “Known_#” and “BUS_#”.  We will look at this convention more in the next section.


The first iteration of the functional (child) model is what is known as a “shell” model.  The inputs and outputs of the shell model should match the defined interface, e.g. the data type (double, int, float or structure) and dimension (scalar, vector).  Further the outputs from the shell model should provide values that are “safe” for other functional components in the system(1)   As the shell model is elaborated the outputs will reflect the actual executable code.

System architecture with unknown interfaces…

For well-established systems the input and outputs from the system will be known ahead of time.  However, for newer projects, the functional interface may not be fully defined.  In this instance buses(2) can be used to provide a flexible interface.  Members of the bus are selected inside of the child model, because of this members can be added to the bus as needed without breaking the interface of other child models.

Rational behind this approach

This approach to developing the system level model has multiple advantages…

  1. First, it allows independent development of the functional models.  Engineers are free to develop their model as long as they maintain the functional interface(3).
  2. Unit level testing can start with the initial shell model
  3. This approach allows system level testing at an early stage of development.
  4. This system promotes reuse of components.

Limitations of this approach

Following this approach can lead to inefficient or unclear function interfaces if the engineers keep adding new things into the input and output buses.  This can be avoided by follow through periodic reviews of the interfaces.  I will cover rules for data management in future posts(4).


(1)In this example I show simple constant blocks.  More complex data can be outputs can be created using signal generator blocks.
(2) In the MATLAB / Simulink environment, a bus maps to a C structure.  The bus is members are defined as part of the data dictionary then the model can create instances of the bus.
(3) The reality of development is that at some point in time the functional interface will need to change; a change process should be put into place to account for the change to the bus definition or ports of the system.
(4) As a general rule of thumb buses (structures) should not be more than 2 levels deep (e.g. Structure in Structure) and each root level should have no more than 12 signals. Going beyond this can result in difficult to parse data structures.

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