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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 »

A Conversation With Oboe Wu On the Future Of SOLIDWORKS MBD

March 9th, 2017 by Jeff Rowe

A few weeks ago we were in Los Angeles attending SOLIDWORKS World 2017. As usual, it was an overwhelming whirlwind of people, sights, sounds, and information while it was taking place, but has come into better focus now that some time has transpired for letting all of it sink in and make sense. One of the things I wanted to especially sort out was SOLIDWORKS’ take on model-based definition (MBD), where it stands today, and where it might be headed in the future

The last day of SOLIDWORKS World 2017 I sat down with Oboe Wu, SOLIDWORKS MBD Product Manager, and we discussed several aspects of MBD. Our discussion on SOLIDWORKS MBD centered around the creation and consumption of MBD data (that are tied to customers’ workflows), and the fact that MBD is transitioning from the “why implement” phase to the “how to implement” phase.

In the video below, SOLIDWORKS MBD Product Manager, Oboe Wu, discusses how to eliminate conversion of 3D data to 2D documents and fully leverage 3D design data throughout an organization and partners to reduce redundant tasks. He explains MBD from SOLIDWORKS’ point of view.

What is SOLIDWORKS Model-Based Definition?


He said that MBD is much more than just software applications and requires both process and mindset shifts to be successful. SOLIDWORKS wants to make defining, creating, and consuming MBD data as easy as possible because MBD is such a major process shift.

The consumption side of MBD data showcases the real purpose of MBD – to realize the full potential of downstream, intelligent manufacturing applications provided by the digital thread. The SOLIDWORKS charter is how to better consume MBD data.

According to Wu, time savings on the MBD data creation side is relatively small when compared with the time savings that can be realized on the consumption side. Ideally, data should be created once and consumed numerous times. In other word, the more times that MBD data is consumed, the better the value of creating it in the first place.

With SOLIDWORKS MBD, you can communicate product and product manufacturing (PMI) directly in 3D, bypassing time-consuming 2D processes, in other words, drawings (at least in theory, anyway).

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 (again, 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.

During our conversation, 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 farther reaching 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.

SOLIDWORKS MBD is not just about design, but also for enabling manufacturing. This was one of the big reason behind SOLIDWORKS CAM and tolerance-based machining (from CAMWorks).

The SOLIDWORKS Product Ecosystem (Coming soon: SOLIDWORKS CAM)

Digital data (geometric and non-geometric) are what define MBD, and this complements Smart Manufacturing initiatives that absolutely require a digital enterprise fueled by digital data. MBD, then, provides a digital thread 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, and this is harder to accomplish than most would think.

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.

In the video below, Oboe Wu, Product Manager of SOLIDWORKS MBD, discusses companies using MBD, and their results.

Customer Successes with SOLIDWORKS Model-Based Definition

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.

The SOLIDWORKS MBD Partner Ecosystem

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).

All of that said, SOLIDWORKS is in a good position when it comes to MBD, both near and long term.

Most of the major traditional CAD companies are betting that their direction in the evolution of the industry is “the next big thing,” including IoT, “the cloud,” and so on. Some of the bets will pay off and some won’t. However, I think that SOLIDWORKS’ foray into MBD that encompasses much more than just design could pay off in a big way for many years to come in ways yet to be envisioned.

Editor’s Note: Later this year, our friends at Action Engineering will be conducted several SOLIDWORKS MBD workshops and seminars. Check out these upcoming events at

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