Comparing systems design

How does it compare to mechatronics engineering?

In systems design engineering, the focus in the early semesters is on building up a base of general engineering knowledge, as well as knowledge and experience with design methodology that can be applied broadly. Students can then take technical electives and work on advanced design projects in areas that are of particular interest to them, such as mechatronics, intelligent systems, human-computer interaction, systems modelling, and alternative energy.

In contrast, the mechatronics engineering program focuses specifically on the design of effective mechatronic systems that combine mechanical, electronic, computer, and software concepts, such as robotics, vehicular systems, and “smart” devices.

For students interested in both the broad application of design and mechatronic systems, the best approach may be to combine the Systems Design program with a Mechatronics Option.

How does it compare to computer, systems, and software engineering?

Programs in computer engineering and systems engineering focus almost exclusively on computing systems (hardware/software), while Systems Design covers a much wider variety of systems that may or may not include computing systems. Similarly, Waterloo’s software engineering program focuses almost exclusively on software development.

Many systems design students find themselves in software-oriented (programming) type jobs, especially during early work terms. However, our students are not bound to follow an exclusively computer or software-oriented path.

Students take approximately one computer-based course per term for the first two years of study, after which they may choose to take electives that are related to computers and software, or concentrate on areas such as human-ergonomic and societal-environmental systems. Senior design projects cover a wide range of applications, environmental systems modeling, conflict analysis, pattern recognition, intelligent systems, human-computer interaction, and biomechanics.

How does it compare to management and industrial engineering?

Industrial engineering traditionally focuses on the application of engineering methods for the improvement of manufacturing and industry-related processes, but has broadened to include other work-related domains such as health care and information management. This is the focus of Waterloo’s management engineering program, which is offered by our Department of Management Sciences.

Systems design engineering includes many industrial engineering methods as part of its core curriculum, such as scheduling and optimization, human factors and ergonomics, information management, and project management, which are applied in students’ first-year team design projects. However, our students also learn the basics of the mechanical, electrical, computing, civil, and software engineering disciplines, which enables them to determine where they focus their studies in upper years.

Options available to systems design students

Note: options often require taking extra courses during an academic term. Students are allowed to take one extra course during an academic term and must have an average of greater than 70% in each of the previous two academic terms.