What's Undermining Model-Based Efforts?
Chad Jackson posted on June 26, 2013 |

How did the world end up being so technology focused?

When it comes to enabling changes in how organizations work, we very frequently turn to technology first. When there's a missing capability, we rant. When that capability is finally included in a new version of technology, we rave. But increasingly, I'm finding that enabling changes in work practices start with process change, even where you think it might not apply.

Let's take Model-Based Enterprise (MBE) efforts, for example. You can find some background at the site model-based-enterprise.org which is sponsored by US DOD, NIST and other organizations. The idea is to embed product and manufacturing information (PMI) into 3D models. This means that organizations can use that 3D model in downstream applications like quality, manufacturing, service, marketing and sales instead of a 2D drawing.

Despite the apparent value behind such efforts, many organizations struggle to adopt MBE. Let's talk about why that's the case.

Why Isn't It Working?

Back in May, attended the 3D Collaboration and Interoperability Congress in Colorado Springs. I was there presenting findings from a study I conducted on design interoperability, model-based initiatives and the use of 3D in the enterprise. While I was there, I got to listen to numerous great presentations.

Interestingly, many attendees I engaged came away from the event with agreement on the biggest impediment to the adoption to Model-Based efforts. And it wasn't technology. To a person, almost everyone said that cultural change was the biggest obstacle. It seems that Newton's laws of physics apply here: "an object at rest remains at rest unless acting upon by an external force." The corollary here is that individuals want to keep doing things the way they've been doing them. Regardless of the change, individuals in the organization will resist changes to work activities.

It seems the primary means of overcoming such resistance is top-down executive advocacy. Essentially, individuals will change the way they've been dong their work if their boss, and actually more like their boss's boss's boss, mandates a change.

Mandates Aren't Enough

It would seem like adopting such practices like MBE would be relatively simple. Engineers embed PMI in 3D models. Downstream users leverage that information for their own purposes. Right? Well, unfortunately, its not that simple. In fact, things in this regard are very complicated.

At the 3D CIC event, Ram Pentakota, a Global Chief Engineer from Johnson Controls, presenting what the Strategic Automotive product data Standards Industry Group (SASIG) is doing for MBE standards. Practically the entire presentation was focused on process definitions. And stepping back, it makes a ton of sense. There are many actors and different kinds of activities that, in general, fall into the following categories.

  • Downstream consumers of PMI embedded in 3D models need very specific types of information. Engineers need to know what types of PMI to embed.
  • PMI embedded in 3D models can actually be enhanced and extended by non-engineering individuals.
  • Downstream users leverage PMI in 3D models to create their own deliverables, transforming what was an engineering digital asset into something different.
Most organizations, because they are often undermanned and working under compressed development schedules, can't take the time to document, much less re-engineer, their development processes.

Technology Isn't the Problem

All this brings me back to my original point about technology. Usually when an effort to change the way an organization works fails, the fingers is almost invariably pointed first at the enabling technology. But in this case, many of the challenge aren't technology related.

Summary and Questions

Alright, let's recap.

  • Model-Based Enterprise (MBE) efforts focus on embedding Product and Manufacturing Information (PMI) into 3D models. That is then used in various organizations in lieu of a 2D engineering drawing.
  • Cultural change is a significant impediment to pursuing MBE initiatives. It often takes an executive mandates to successfully push through the resistance from individuals to change how they work.
  • MBE efforts are more complex than engineers embedding PMI and downstream users consuming it. This requires some process re-engineering, or at least process documentation.

That's my view. Agree? Disagree? Let me know and leave a comment.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.

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