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Get Smarter in Manufacturing with the Right Data

Bruce Morey
By Bruce Morey Senior Technical Editor, SME Media

With the manufacturing world embracing smarter manufacturing, there is a lot of information and opinions floating around about how to do it. Discussions can get vague, even puzzling. One thing that seems clear is that the foundation of smart manufacturing is product data. Moving it easily up and down the supply chain and between design department and manufacturing floor is what will make manufacturing smart. Unfortunately, for most companies today, that is not so easy.

“The most significant pain point for businesses today is the disconnected nature of all of their data,” said Jennifer Herron, CEO of Action Engineering, Golden, Colo., an industry expert. This is why knowing at least some of the details around arcane discussions of data formats is so important.

Model-Based Definition to the Rescue

Compared to the physical excitement of creating parts and from that building a business, how important can a file format be? “There are many advantages to MBD and finding the right ones to motivate your crowd is the challenge,” Herron said, referring to Model-Based Definition (MBD).

Attaching important information to a CAD model through MBD allows communication downstream from design and automates manufacturing functions. (Provided by Action Engineering)

What learning and implementing MBD can do is help manufacturers reduce cost, speed set-up for manufacturing, and keep track of vital information for quality and liability purposes. Today’s most common way of sharing is sending a CAD model, but that is not enough. “There are often several related documents for each component that comprise a large sub-assembly,” she said. How to make it, how to measure it, what materials to use are usually contained in separate PDFs or even in paper. This leaves the data open to interpretation and reading errors. It could even be simply wrong. “Because MBD data is machine readable data, we can begin making discrete connections between data and integrate documents. You can create engineering requirements for manufacturing that do not require interpretation,” said Herron.

What does this mean? For example, using a CAD model that includes attached MBD means creating inspection programs automatically. No more will a human need to create a CMM program by looking over a paper or PDF of GD&T—and perhaps getting it wrong. The same MBD model used for design can be used in manufacturing, including automating CAM functions like tool-paths for machining or instructions for assembly. Or automating one of the more tedious and therefore error prone functions, populating the assembly parts list, or Bill of Material (BOM), with data from each sub-component’s attributes.

Perhaps just as importantly is traceability of all these essential functions. From design inception to in-use operation, MBD enables a full-path that makes digital twin possible.

Data Formats to Know

Unfortunately, this now requires shop floor people to become knowledgeable in obscure data formats. “3D Data formats! There are so many, and the landscape is overwhelming,” admits Herron. “It takes significant hours spent researching the data formats to become a master of them.” So, rely on experts if needed, but maybe you don’t need to know them all. She went on to say that the key data formats are all the Native formats of the most popular CAD programs (CATIA, Creo, Inventor, SOLIDWORKS, NX) and four derivative formats that are used most today:

  • ISO 10303-242 STEP (BREP representation)
  • ISO 14306 JT (Lighweight Viewable)
  • ISO 14739-1 3D PDF PRC (Lighweight Viewable)
  • ISO 23952 QIF (Quality Information Framework)

It is important to note that QIF is a data format as implemented by software vendors. However, it is also a framework for interoperable data, initially intended to capture quality-related digital information. The standard was an evolution of the CMM-standard DMIS, and is authored, maintained, and evolved by the non-profit standards organization Digital Metrology Standards Consortium (DMSC).

Use in Industry Evolving

Jennifer Herron is the CEO of Action Engineering. Helping people understand MBD grew from her own experiences in space-craft design. (Provided by Action Engineering)

If MBD is so useful, why is it not more widely adopted? The author has interviewed industry practitioners that have never seen it, and some who still don’t know what it is, while others are wary. While MBD is a technology, an organization that fully embraces its use and dispenses with paper altogether is termed a Model-Based Enterprise, or MBE. Perhaps that is the roadblock. Adopting a technology, MBD, means a change to how an organization works, as it must evolve into an MBE. Change is hard on people.

The roadblocks are how people understand and adopt the details of how their job will change from working with the 2D information to allowing software programs to do the tedious heavy lifting with the 3D data, according to Herron. This is a very tricky transition.

“When an organization sets its goal to eliminate paper, its implementations fail. The reason for this lies in the fact that it is an unachievable and impractical goal, and there is very little business value in eliminating all paper,” explained Herron. “Instead, I coach organizations to find the business value in connecting 3D data. A notable saving metric when using MBD is the time reduction in manual programming of Coordinate Measurement Machine (CMM) programming. By re-using MBD, we see a 60-80% time savings. Often this metric alone is enough ROI for an organization.”

She points readers to a 2018 NIST MBE Summit presentation where a particular instance of cost savings are documented.

For comments, I invite readers to contact me, Bruce Morey, Senior Technical Editor at

For more information on Action Engineering and MBD, visit:

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