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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

MBD Finally Gaining Momentum for Smart Manufacturing

November 10th, 2016 by Jeff Rowe

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a very interesting event called the 3D Collaboration & Interoperability Congress 2016 (3D CIC) that was hosted by our colleagues at Action Engineering. The actual conference event was two days, but was preceded by a SOLIDWORKS user group meeting that focused exclusively on model-based definition (MBD) for an entire day. Myself, along with about 60 other attendees got a good look at MBD, not just SOLIDWORKS’ perspective, but a broader view, as well.

I was fortunate to sit next to Oboe Wu, product manager at SOLIDWORKS who is a huge proponent of MBD. With SOLIDWORKS MBD, you can communicate product and PMI directly in 3D, bypassing time-consuming 2D processes, in other words, drawings.

SOLIDWORKS MBD sets data such as product models, dimensions, geometric tolerances, surface finishes, welding symbols, bills of material (BOM), callouts, tables, notes, Meta properties, and other annotations within the SOLIDWORKS 3D environment in 3D PMI. Because all the information needed to guide the operation is integrated with the 3D models, traditional 2D drawings are no longer needed (at least in theory).

With MBD, 2D drawings become less necessary and meaningful. Instead of having a 3D model and a 2D drawing in a traditional workflow, the model is the drawing in an MBD workflow. The MBD approach provides a direct connection and single digital data thread from design to engineering to inspection.


In our conversations, SOLIDWORKS’ Wu was quick to point out that while MBD promotes more clear communication, it is not yet a total replacement for 2D drawings for many customers, but rather a peaceful coexistence between model and drawing. In other words, MBD is not just going paperless, it’s much broader than that. With MBD, he said that the full potential of 3D models is just now beginning to be realized by a wider customer base, with a younger workforce being more accepting of 3D models and MBD. In his opinion, he said that some of the biggest drivers for MBD and its direct design-to-manufacturing connection are additive manufacturing, as well as conventional machining.

Digital data (geometric and non-geometric) are what define MBD, and this dovetails nicely with Smart Manufacturing initiatives that absolutely require a digital enterprise fueled by digital data. MBD, then, provides a digital ecosystem for Smart Manufacturing.

Today, however, the sad truth is that MBD is still kind of a mess largely because there are no true universal standards that all players adhere to – every solution vendor seems to define the technology aspects of MBD that benefits them specifically and leveraging it to their competitive advantage.

Ultimately, for MBD to really catch on universally, the data surrounding it must be not just human readable, but also machine readable.

The concepts of model-based definition, model-based manufacturing, and model-based enterprise (MBD/MBM/MBE) have received a lot of attention in the past few years because this approach handles product development using a digital master model (geometric data), and not just necessarily CAD (non-geometric data, such as annotations and notes).

All downstream activities can be derived from the master model to develop a product. The MBD approach replaces puzzling documents and can minimize the need for physical prototypes before an optimized design has been developed. In other words, engineers and designers can simulate and iterate as much as necessary to refine a model while also meeting requirements and adhering to design constraints.

There is a lot of existing technology that supports MBD; what are poorly defined are the processes required to implement it.

Well-implemented MBD methods and protocols have been proven to save time, reduce risk, improve products — all of which save money with engineering and business benefits. Like many things in the corporate world, though, moving and adhering to an MBD approach is as much a cultural issue as it is technological.

11102016 SolidWorks MBD


Remember a long time ago when the so-called “paperless office” was just around the corner. Well, we’ve all turned a lot of corners over the years waiting for the nirvana that still seems to be “just around the corner.”

Of course, strides have been made for a way to communicate design engineering information in a paperless manner, and one of the most promising developments is MBD.

MBD, also known as digital product definition (DPD) in some circles, is the practice of using 3D models (such as solid models, 3D PMI and associated metadata) within 3D CAD software to define (provide specifications for) individual components and product assemblies. The types of information included are geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T), component level materials, assembly level bills of materials, engineering configurations, design intent, etc. By contrast, other methodologies have historically required accompanying use of 2D engineering drawings to provide these details.

CAD applications allow for inserting engineering information such as dimensions, GD&T, notes and other product details within the 3D digital data set for components and assemblies. MBD uses these capabilities to establish the 3D digital data set as the source of these specifications and design authority for the product. The 3D digital data set contains enough information to manufacture and inspect products without the need for engineering drawings. Engineering drawings have traditionally contained this information, but aren’t necessary with MBD.

In 2003, ASME published the ASME Y14.41-2003 Digital Product Definition Data Practices, which was revised in 2012 as ASME Y14.41-2012. The standard provides for the use of many MBD aspects, such as GD&T display and other annotation behaviors within the solid model. ISO-16792:2006 standardizes MBD within the ISO standards, sharing many similarities with the ASME standard. Other standards, such as ISO 1101:2004 and of AS9100 also employ MBD.

In 2013, the United States Department of Defense released MIL-STD-31000 Revision A to codify the use of MBD as a requirement for technical data packages (TDP).

A big proponent of MBD is Jennifer Herron, owner of Action Engineering, a company that specializes in the promotion, process development, and standardization of 3D MBD. She is also the author of Re-Use Your CAD: The Model-Based CAD Handbook, an excellent book that we reviewed a couple of years ago.

Action Engineering 3D MBD Example

With regard to SOLIDWORKS MBD, she said, “In usual SOLIDWORKS fashion, the newest release includes updates requested from users that enhance the user’s capability and efficiency when creating and delivering 3D solid models,” said Herron. “I expect many users to appreciate SOLIDWORK’s attention to detail regarding the usefulness of 3D model-only data sets. The ability to directly publish into a 3D PDF may be an industry game changer. Further, SOLIDWORKS meets MIL-STD-31000A requirements with a user-friendly interface that facilitates data set creation inherent to the Model-Based Enterprise (MBE) model schema.”

So, is a paperless engineering office possible? Yes. Practical? Probably, but that remains to be seen based on how widely it is adopted and accepted by the manufacturing community. However, the tide seems to be turning toward a drawing-less design-to-manufacturing mentality and workflow.

Editor’s Note: MBD was also one of the central focuses of 3D CIC 2017, and I’ll discuss what I experienced at the event in the near future.

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