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Jennifer Herron
Jennifer Herron
Jennifer Herron is the owner of Action Engineering, a company that specializes in the promotion, process development, and standardization of a 3D CAD Model-Based Environment. Her career has been spent creating and building complex hardware systems for the aerospace and defense industry, her … More »

Measuring Digital Thread Value – NIST MBE Summit 2016

June 6th, 2016 by Jennifer Herron

dig·it·al thread
[dij-i-dl] [thred]

// the creation and use of cross-domain, common digital surrogates of a materiel system to allow dynamic, contemporaneous assessment of the system’s current and future capabilities to inform decisions in the Capability Planning and Analysis, Preliminary Design, Detailed Design, Manufacturing, Testing, and Sustainment acquisition phases

Source: Kraft, E. (2013). Expanding the Digital Thread to Impact Total Ownership Cost [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from:

Digital Thread isn’t just a marketing term. It’s real, it’s here, it’s tangible. What we’re missing are measurable results of the technology. You know, that stuff that will make your case to upper management. That nasty term… ROI.

The Digital Thread: Stitching Together the Next Industrial Revolution

Government and commercial entities gathered at the MBE Summit in April 2016 to discuss the digital thread and Model-Based Engineering. This annual event is hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The purpose of the MBE Summit is to identify challenges, research, implementation issues, and lessons learned in manufacturing and quality assurance where a digital 3D model of the product serves as the authoritative information source for all activities in the product’s lifecycle.

My overall impressions from MBE Summit week
I’ve been attending the MBE Summit for approximately 6 years, since before MBE and MBD (Model-Based Definition) were “the thing.”

  • The landscape of MBD/MBE adopters and users has shifted. Based on this year’s presentations, audience questions, and networking interactions, my impression is that the combined percentage of MBE/MBD adopters and those in the fact finding stage have increased significantly from approximately 20% to 80% over my 6 years of attendance. When I began attending, nobody really wanted to hear about MBD… and now that’s all we discuss.
MBD MBE Interest and Adoption

Action Engineering’s impressions of the MBD/MBE interest shift

  • The conversations have shifted from big picture, pie-in-the-sky to getting down to the brass tacks of researching and implementing the details of MBD.
  • Software technology and standards have reached a critical mass to support the big picture vision of MBE. Both are significantly better than they used to be just 6 years ago. One quick plug about standards from the ASME Y14.46 subcommittee chair (me!): if standards development sounds appealing to you, the various product definition subcommittees welcome your help — especially if you like to write process-based prose. ASME subcommittees meet regularly via conference call and twice yearly in person (next in Dallas in October 2016). These meetings are also an incredible way to gain a deeper understanding of product definition (such as GD&T, dimensions and tolerances, and surface metrology).
  • Digital associativity of annotations to features is still a mystery to most, but some are differentiating between human readability and software consumable.
  • Lesson learned: Adding full annotations is extremely labor intensive compared with embedding 2D views generated from 2D drawing programs into 3D PDFs, or just sticking with a 2D PDF.
  • I liked the emphasis that MBD is a communication method, and we should focus our design of such digital data with the end user in mind. Helping users “learn” the product through 3D visualization is a clear advantage.
  • For standards, we need to agree on the basics and need a map of standards and their inter-relationships.
  • You must come to “trust the process” that generates the data (because you may not know the person who gave you the data).
  • For n=1, when the drawing product definition yielded the wrong part and the model data yielded the right part, extending this process to n=100 may be more convincing. Think ROI. Check out the results from the n=1 NIST and Rockwell Collins project.
comparing MBD to drawings

Figure from “Testing the Digital Thread in Support of Model-Based Manufacturing and Inspection” in the Journal of Computing and Information Science in Engineering, June 2016, Vol. 16 / 021001-5. Image Source:

I captured a few high-level tips of the MBE trade from the collective presenting minds.

What is the biggest bang for your MBD buck?

  • Assemblies throughout the integrated supply chain
  • Closed loop, integrated, automated design through the manufacturing and inspection process using a minimum information model

Convincing upper management about MBE

  • Develop a clear statement of the problem.
  • Don’t try to win the battle all at once.
  • Money matters. Determine how to save money for your organization.
  • Determine your payback.
  • Create and evaluate use-cases.
  • Don’t try to transform the whole enterprise because most are not willing to take that kind of risk.
  • Don’t pitch the effort as developing a standard (leave that to the standards committees).
  • It boils down to ROI (that word again…).

And finally, my impressions from the MBE Capabilities Workshop  

Immediately following the MBE Summit, a one-day “Measurement Science for MBE Capabilities” workshop was held to evaluate the latest release of the MBE Capabilities Index and gather industry input for a guidebook that NIST is developing to help organizations assess their MBE capabilities, determine actions to take based on the assessment results, and outline a minimum set of requirements to be considered a model-based enterprise.

My impressions from the workshop:

  • Good domain (e.g., SME) expertise was represented, as well as a good mixture of government, commercial, and contractor representation.
  • Topics desired for the guidebook: How to do an assessment? What does it mean? How do you know you’re done? What are the minimum requirements?
  • Level 6 is designed to be impossible!
  • Implementations are too unique for the index to cover all situations.
  • It’s not an instrument to rate company A against company B.
  • The understanding and interpretation of the standard is infinite and not common. This will only come through education.
  • The key is to work collaboratively with your suppliers.

AIAG brought their graphical interpretation of the MBE Capabilities Index. This is an improvement in the understanding of the evolution of MBD. See the wall chart here:

One day we’ll look back on these notes and realize just how far we’ve come on our MBD journey. For now, calculate your ROI to pitch your case for MBD to upper management.

MBE Summit 2016 presentations can be found here:

Find out more about the Digital Thread for Smart Manufacturing here:

Digital Thread Information Framework

Source: Feeney, A. B. & Hedberg, T. (2016). Model-Based Research in Smart Manufacturing [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from:

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