Creating a Successful Roadmap for the Model-Based Enterprise
Written By: Beth Stackpole

Most engineers are living in a 3D world. The CAD models they build as part of the design process are 3D as are the simulations that prove out those concepts and the realistic prototypes output with, you guessed it, 3D printers working off the same 3D data.

Yet outside of engineering—in manufacturing departments, throughout the supply chain, even within service—the 3D model has yet to become the holy grail. In fact, it’s more likely that 2D drawings are the go-to resource for information about a particular product design. As a result, organizations are not poised to capitalize on the myriad benefits of the model-based enterprise (MBE), a vision for a collaborative environment with a 3D product definition as the definitive information resource for activities spanning a product’s complete lifecycle.

As standards evolve for 3D models to embed other types of non-geometric data—product and manufacturing information (PMI) such as geometric dimensions and tolerances, materials information, and surface finishes, among other items—pioneering companies like Toyota and Boeing have gone on record with claims that a MBE approach can translate into a 50% reduction in costs. The savings are due to the efficiencies and increased accuracy of leveraging the 3D product definition for everything from setting up manufacturing workflows to inspecting parts and creating process planning instructions.

A 2014 study on the Model-Based Enterprise published by Lifecycle Insights found plenty of evidence that model-based definitions help companies save time, eliminate scrap, and promote reuse. Specifically, the report found that organizations heavily entrenched in using 3D annotated models spend 6.6 fewer hours per week on engineering documentation, address 2.5 fewer emergency issues per month (like initiating change orders or reprioritizing resources), and have to deal with 4.9 fewer incidents of figuring out why certain parts don’t end up fitting together. Because engineers are devoting fewer hours to creating, clarifying or fixing documentation, they have more time to spend on actual design and engineering work, which leads to better products.

Another study, by analyst firm EMF, found a model-based approach to have particular value for developing and managing families of products and their variants. The research showed companies delivering 23% more projects on time at 62% lower cost compared to organizations using MBE alternative approaches.

Despite the obvious high utility of an MBE model, most organizations have still not made the leap due to a number of hurdles, from cultural challenges to the need for better understanding of MBE tools and processes. The same Lifecycle Insights study found that while 58% of respondents were experimenting with 3D annotated models, only a slight 9% were relying on them more so than 2D drawings for engineering documentation, and only 2% have established the 3D model as their only form of engineering documentation.

How can organizations address those barriers and cross over to the world of MBE? It’s not always easy and it definitely takes time and planning, but here are a few suggestions to get the transition underway:

Actively communicate the vision and the game plan. It may not be clear to everyone that continued reliance on 2D drawings poses problems, especially if the issues occur outside their purview. Make sure upstream and downstream users fully understand the shortcomings of 2D drawings, from hard-to-interpret design intent to keeping the drawings updated after revisions to the security risks surrounding design IP. If everyone is clear on how an MBE approach can address these common design challenges, they’ll be much more willing to do their part to facilitate the transformation.

Foster an MBE culture. Don’t underestimate the task of weaning users off the devil they know–2D drawings–despite constant complains about their shortcomings. Create cross-functional teams representing engineering, manufacturing, and service to collaboratively address the challenges while creating new workflows and standards that will work to everyone’s advantage.

Finally, make sure to establish buy-in from the top and cultivate C-level champions. For an organization to orchestrate a successful transition to MBE, it needs to be clear this is an initiative that benefits the entire organization, not just a boondoggle for engineering.

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Model-based definition, a key component of the model-based enterprise, is quickly becoming the preferred approach to design as many of the hurdles to creating a single source authority model for every stage of product development are falling away. To learn more about model-based definition, check out the free eBook from PTC. You’ll find out more about the limits of 2D drawings, how MBD simplifies complexity, and where to get started. Download your copy today.

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[Ed. This post has been updated]

Tags: CAD Retail and Consumer Products Connected Devices
About the Author Beth Stackpole

Beth Stackpole is a contributing editor at Desktop Engineering ( who has been covering the engineering and design tool space for nearly a decade.

This blog post is funded by PTC. The concepts, ideas, and positions of this post have been developed independently by Beth Stackpole.