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Adopting MBD is About More Than Technology

Bruce Morey
By Bruce Morey Senior Technical Editor, SME Media

There is a lot of promise in the coming adoption of Model-Based Definition (MBD) in industry. MBD is the practice of attaching useful information to a 3D CAD model, such as tolerances or material properties. This should be especially good news for manufacturing engineers. The goal is a consistent source of information that is traceable, from design to manufacturing and beyond. Gone will be separate files and graphics on paper used to transmit vital information, and prone to misinterpretation. There is also the promise of automatically deriving CNC programming or inspection process programs.

Can its promise be realized? With few technical hurdles, organizations may have to broaden their thinking.

MBD was pioneered in the aerospace industry. Nowadays, providers of CAD, CAM and metrology programs are ensuring they can input CAD with attached product and manufacturing information, or PMI. One of the challenges is interoperability between the proliferation of CAD formats. In today’s complex supply chains, collaborators often use different CAD formats.

“The attached product manufacturing information and 3D annotations also vary slightly from vendor to vendor,” said Annalise Suzuki, director of technology and engagement for Elysium. The company offers solutions for this interoperability challenge, and its products automate what can be a tedious manual process.

An important element she sees are the processes and standards that organizations are implementing to achieve it. “Everyone has a lot to learn,” she said. Another key point: “The timesaving in [implementing MBD] is not in engineering, it is downstream,” especially in manufacturing. She views MBD as a way to increase integration within whole organizations, not just departments.

That brings me back to my main point. While the benefits of implementing a manufacturing process around MBD accrue to the organization, it also requires an organization to dedicate itself to transformation. That is according to Jennifer Herron, CEO of Action Engineering. “You must have an enterprise willing to change from their drawing-based methodology to take advantage of MBD. A model-based philosophy reduces the ambiguities of the product definition process.”

Mesmerized by Technology

We all tend to be mesmerized by technology, often without fully understanding its effect on existing systems and processes. “Someone asked me, ‘What do I do after I buy the tool?’” said Herron. As it turns out, a lot. “In our approach, buying the technology is only one of four things you need to do. Many people come at this from an analytical and technical perspective. They neglect the impact of culture change,” she said. They buy the technology, then start burying themselves in the minutiae of that detail. Doing only that, they miss the other three key elements in making a transformation: developing processes to exploit it; adopting the latest standards that ease MBD development; and educating their people.

The familiar should not be neglected. A new process should account not only for adopting MBD, but also moving from a 2D drawing to a 3D CAD model as the source, according to Herron. “We help companies keep the information they need in their current 2D system, such as human-readable notes,” she said. “The other important element is adopting the 2009 version of ASME Y14.5 for GD&T. That standard highly benefits MBD because of the way tolerances are applied and how the datum reference frame is constrained,” she said.

It is just one of the many “pain points” between manufacturing and engineering that could, ideally, be eased with MBD. But look beyond the technology to solve it.

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