Process biomimicry: Understanding when to imitate nature

Richard A. Burgess, Donna E. Hamilton, Mario G. Beruvides

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Products as diverse as Velcro, wind turbine blades, and many other materials have been developed as a result of looking to nature for design cues; an approach known as biomimicry. This approach has been extended to the design of processes as well. Recent innovations include using termite mounds as a model for temperature regulation in buildings and using insect swarm behavior to optimize autonomous vehicle movement. While the deliverables of biomimicry are promising, this design approach warrants further scrutiny. Natural processes have often evolved over millennia and under different circumstances than those they are being repurposed for. Taking a process out of context risks undercutting its effectiveness. Furthermore, the evolutionary strategies implicit to these natural processes may be at odds with human values embedded in the intended application. Systems Engineers should consider such points when engaging in process level biomimicry (PLB). In this paper, the two examples of PLB mentioned above are examined with an eye towards identifying underlying design principles. Next, the concept of how isomorphology can inform a heuristic for PLB is explored. Biomimicry should continue to feature into engineering design but only with a nuanced appreciation for the complexities of grafting one process on to another.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages6
StatePublished - 2018
Event2018 Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers Annual Conference and Expo, IISE 2018 - Orlando, United States
Duration: May 19 2018May 22 2018


Conference2018 Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers Annual Conference and Expo, IISE 2018
Country/TerritoryUnited States


  • Biomimicry
  • Engineering design
  • Isomorphology
  • Systems theory


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