Surfing for Model-Based Definition Waves of Knowledge
Dick Bourke posted on March 23, 2017 |

In today's widely dispersed and mobile design environment, engineers who actually care about such petty things as project time and cost constraints need – and should expect –  to exploit a broad range of CAD management tools to define quality products.

Elysium is a prime example of the companies that provide such tools, so naturally, my search for knowledge to share took me to their two-day conference – an easy drive to Huntington Beach, CA, known as “HB” to the locals and “Surf City” to everyone else, on account of local weather conditions that bring the city titanic waves all year long.

In this article, I hope to share a few waves of model-based definition (MDB) knowledge.

To do so, I’ll highlight the broad perspectives contributed by two consultants - Rich Eckenrode, CEO of RECON Services, and Jennifer Herron, CEO of Action Engineering,-and add some flavoring gleaned from other presentations, as well as off-line discussions with attendees.

Elysium is a collaboration/interoperability software tools provider, with a major presence in the aerospace, defense, electronics and automotive sectors. The company claims more than 3000 customers in its international customer base, gained over the course of its 23 year history. Elysium currently supports many CAD packages and STEP and STL standards, and offers full MBD support for CATIA V5, SOLIDWORKS, NX and Creo.

Figure 1. Key Enablers of model-based enterprise (MBE), as explained in an opening presentation on Elysium’s product strategy, Supporting a Model-Based Lifestyle. Different tasks are divided into a handful of general categories, each of which is served by a particular tool. The common denominator of these tools is the ability to ensure product quality and interoperability over the product lifecycle. (Image courtesy of Elysium.)
Figure 1. Key Enablers of model-based enterprise (MBE), as explained in an opening presentation on Elysium’s product strategy, Supporting a Model-Based Lifestyle. Different tasks are divided into a handful of general categories, each of which is served by a particular tool. The common denominator of these tools is the ability to ensure product quality and interoperability over the product lifecycle. (Image courtesy of Elysium.)

Introducing Model-Based-Definition

The need for complete, usable product definitions, be it 2D drawings or 3D models, is universal. Herron’s presentation discussed an evolving solution to this problem, MDB, and described it basic values: clear, repeatable and unambiguous communication from a source authority (often called the Master Model).
Figure 2. The four elements of Model-Based Definition, portrayed as a minimally annotated data set, which defines the product in a manner that can be used effectively without a drawing graphic sheet; interpreted definition from the proposed in ASME Y14.41.1 draft. (Image courtesy of Action Engineering.)
Figure 2. The four elements of Model-Based Definition, portrayed as a minimally annotated data set, which defines the product in a manner that can be used effectively without a drawing graphic sheet; interpreted definition from the proposed in ASME Y14.41.1 draft. (Image courtesy of Action Engineering.)

MBD is the foundational element of a larger, more comprehensive initiative called MBE, which the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines as “an approach to product development, manufacturing and lifecycle support that uses a digital model to drive all manufacturing activities.”

The scope and intensity of MBD/E application has been recognized by a Level Index that describes possible implementation stages.  The following generalized version was derived from a NIST workshop and documentation.
Figure 3.  Capability Index - a summary level presentation. (Image courtesy of RECON Services.)
Figure 3. Capability Index - a summary level presentation. (Image courtesy of RECON Services.)

Of course, numerous variations exist, often tailored by individual users. Some users, for example, might add the following descriptors to the above index:

  • Level 3 – Geometry-only 3D model plus drawing deployed from PLM
  • Level 4 – 3D MBD in native CAD and a certified STEP file housed inside a lightweight viewable (3D PDF) deployed from PLM
  • Level 5 – deployed in the supply chain
  • Level 6 – deployed to all internal operations to achieve maximum re-use

Notice the significant break point between Level 2 and 3: the model becomes the product authority, not the drawing. According to Herron, “drawings require experience and all basic dimensions displayed, but often dimension attachments are ambiguous.”  In other words, drawings can be misinterpreted at the worst possible times, such as in final assembly.

Eckenrode then argue that, since having your product assembled by someone who read the drawing upside down is generally considered undesirable, anyone attempting to implement MBD should strive to reach at least Level 3.Unfortunately, moving from Level 2 to 3 is also unusually difficult - after all, people are rather attached to the idea of 2D drawings. Eckenrode also warns that achieving Level 6 takes careful planning, and was intended to be difficult to achieve.

Catching the Waves of MBD

For surfers, catching the “Perfect Wave” is a perpetual vision. For would-be MBDers, the realistic question is: What is the optimal achievable state? Finding the answer requires completing a three step process - assess the current state, determined the desired state, and identify the return on investment.

Assessing the Current State

Eckenrode and Herron suggest assessing a company’s current state using detailed checklists to both score the current state and identify potential target states. The essence of such working documents is to expand the Level definitions as a starting point. The two following examples show this assessment approach.
Figure 4. MBE Level Assessment Worksheet – a tool for self-evaluation that evolved from NIST and Department of Defense combined efforts. (Image courtesy of RECON Services.)
Figure 4. MBE Level Assessment Worksheet – a tool for self-evaluation that evolved from NIST and Department of Defense combined efforts. (Image courtesy of RECON Services.)
Figure 5. Evaluate Current & Target State – each organization must evaluate their value proposition and determine the level of MBD and MBE right for them. (Image courtesy of Action Engineering.)
Figure 5. Evaluate Current & Target State – each organization must evaluate their value proposition and determine the level of MBD and MBE right for them. (Image courtesy of Action Engineering.)

While you’re performing this assessment, it’s also important to look out for a factor that can help break through that Level 3 barrier: pain. How many companies have suffered from a lack of adequate documentation? By showing that the current methods aren’t working, you can provide an incentive to develop an MBD approach, as I described in a previous article, Basing Products on Models Instead of Drawings Takes Culture Change.

Identifying pain is a “here and now” approach, in contrast to strategic visioning approaches such as Digital Twin or Industry 4.0, which can be long and drawn out. So pain needs to be recognized.

Identifying the Return On Investment

Current Key Performance Measures should give you a few clues: poor product quality, high scrap rates and more. In other words, current pain that is both real and tangible.

Surveys from Lifecycle Insights  (Chad Jackson, President) provide additional perspective: as the charts show, different target levels of capability can drive different levels of ROI, requiring different commitment levels, i.e., time and budget. As Eckenrode stated, “With some effort (perhaps a lot) most organizations could occupy one of those levels (3,4,5).”
Figure 6. Different levels of effort to achieve the stated benefit, compared. (Image courtesy of Lifecycle Insights.)
Figure 6. Different levels of effort to achieve the stated benefit, compared. (Image courtesy of Lifecycle Insights.)

Pouring more fuel onto the motivational fire undoubtedly will be necessary. As a time-honored saying explains, “Rub the burr under the saddle until the pain becomes intolerable.” Sadly, many companies often find that it’s only truly intolerable pain that can drive them to change.

Of course, pain does you no good if your propose solution won’t get rid of it, so you’ll often need specifics to validate your claims that the level of capability you hope to achieve will actually benefit the company.
Figure 7. Results of a 2016 Lifecycle Insights study, surveying 365 respondents; they see reduced costs incurred when using MBD models directly over drawings. (image courtesy of Lifecycle Insights.)
Figure 7. Results of a 2016 Lifecycle Insights study, surveying 365 respondents; they see reduced costs incurred when using MBD models directly over drawings. (image courtesy of Lifecycle Insights.)

Final Thoughts

A few other ideas brought up at the conference:

A major headache looms ahead for many companies: baby boomers are retiring, and their knowledge is going with them. With forecasts predicting a lack of qualified applicants for factory positions, capturing knowledge becomes ever more critical.

The digital twin concept is fast becoming recognized as a mandatory first step toward enterprise and supply chain digitalization, and that will soon be a key strategic consideration.

Your plans will need to carefully balance immediate pain relief against longer-term strategic considerations. For instance, companies could be transforming to a “To-0rder” strategy, such as Engineer or Configure, or, implementing Internet of Things.

No consensus about an ROI justification emerged from the discussions; not unexpected as specific company circumstances differ. Individual environments will determine the most feasible approach. What’s needed in all instances, however is a compelling business strategy built on a comprehensive analysis of both the company’s current and target states.

 

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Addendum

Two Elysium customer presentations focused on their company’s use of the Elysium tools: Adient and Gulfstream. Though MBD/MBE was not the focus of their presentations, publically available documentation describes the benefits the companies gained.

Ram Pentakota, Director of Global IT, presented his thoughts on Adient (formerly Johnson Controls Automotive Seating Division) at an earlier AIAG conference: 3D-Model Based Enterprise an SASIG Initiative. Meanwhile, the Gulfstream presenter, Stephen Burton, PLM Configuration Specialist, described the company’s use of an Elysium tool for geometry validation, and did not cite MBD benefits. Those benefits are quite obvious, however - several instances of supporting detail can be found here.


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