Model Based Definition (MBD) is defined by ASME Y14.47-2019 as follows:

“An annotated model and its associated data elements that define the product in a manner that can be used effectively without a drawing graphic sheet”

MBD replaces the analog 2D drawing with a digitized 3D Computer Aided Design (CAD) model as the product definition source to enable consumption reuse in automated workflows.

MBD has gained significant traction within the engineering community. It has moved from being a topic of conversation to a product definition approach that is under consideration and adoption by many organizations.

To fully benefit from MBD, working relationships and operating models between organizations need to adapt. Engineering functions or domain-aligned teams need to reimagine how they interact across the product lifecycle to drive positive outcomes in upstream or downstream decision making. This also applies to businesses that need to collaborate with each other to deliver a product or service. In this article, we will examine the importance of successful supply network collaboration and identify the ways MBD will change those relationships.

The Importance of the Supply Network

Supply networks are critical to all companies. Even companies with significant vertical integration must buy something from an external organization and benefit from that interface being efficient and productive.

When designing products, suppliers are an essential part of the scaled production process. They specialize in manufacturing technologies and processes to provide components and assemblies to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) that supply assembled products or integrated systems to the industries they serve.

When phasing in the practice of MBD, it is crucial for OEMs to think about their supply base, and its ability to efficiently consume model based data artifacts. While adopting MBD can deliver higher functioning teams and better efficiency in the product definition process at the OEM, many lifecycle benefits will be unrealized if the supply base is left out of the equation. A lot of the benefit to adopting MBD is realized in the manufacturing process itself through cycle time reduction and quality improvements. MBD consumption can also return valuable data about the manufacturing process which can be fed back into design engineering for continual improvement.

Why Suppliers May Not be Equipped to Adopt MBD

The choice to leverage the practice of MBD ultimately means the supply base will need to consume new types of data artifacts. There are a variety of reasons why suppliers may struggle to adapt their data consumption processes to work for a model based ecosystem. See below for a few examples.

1. Smaller Profit Margins

Within a supply base, there can be many types of company profiles, from very large to very small organizations that work across industry sectors and geographic areas. While individual companies vary, profits are generally slimmer on the supply side. Changing processes and updating equipment to support MBD requirements could become extremely expensive.

Purchasing software to maximize MBD reuse may cost a supplier tens of thousands of dollars per seat. In addition to the initial expense, the new software will incur annual operating expenses for maintenance and upkeep, not to mention having a person on staff who is specifically skilled in that software.

The economic ripple effect can be far reaching as there are many kinds of software types that support product definition, manufacturing, and quality processes. While some companies may be able to justify model based updates, others may not have the financial resources to absorb these costs.

2. Cultural Shift

Implementing organizational cultural change is always challenging. Transitioning to operations and processes that maximize the benefits of MBD can involve significant cultural shifts. Motivating employees to embrace a new way of working can be difficult, especially when they’ve spent years perfecting their current methods. Going from pen and paper manual methods to digitalized processes and behaviors will lead to significant change in the day-to-day work experience. Because of this factor, it’s important for suppliers to assess their role in the transition to MBD and the benefits they are looking to capture. Without direction and leadership, influencing the cultural change required to be successful will be very difficult.

3. Training

In addition to overcoming the cultural shift, there is a significant technological learning curve that comes with implementing new model based tools and practices. MBD introduces new or revised digital workflows that require effective file transfer mechanisms and formats. MBD also increases the importance of having digital traceability between supplier-generated data and the OEM source definition. The MBD digital consumption landscape is still fertile ground that requires experimentation to uncover effective workflows.

Some organizations may have a local expert who can teach and guide others, but this is an area where there are still a lot of unknowns, and one where suppliers and OEMs would benefit from consultation with subject matter experts. It will take time to tune these processes, capture the learning, and create effective training programs.

Should Suppliers Have to Change to Accommodate OEMs Model Based Practices?

Incorporating model based practices is a lengthy and expensive ask. Because of this, it raises the following question. Should suppliers have to change their established ways of working to deliver model based benefits to others, or is it the OEMs responsibility to provide information to their suppliers in a way they can consume it?

The answer is likely both. When use of MBD practices is a contractual requirement, a competing OEM will need to demonstrate lifecycle proficiency before getting the opportunity to make the product at all. Participation in these markets necessitates the need for change. It is also a viable strategic choice for both OEMs and suppliers to focus only on markets that do not have MBD requirements or don’t suffer from the challenges MBD solves.

The OEM is often the accountable party for the delivery of MBD outcomes. If they don’t facilitate the change within their supply base, they absorb the additional cost of inefficient manufacturing and quality incidences. In consumer markets, that cost can be passed along through price increases, but this approach risks reductions in sales volume. This also means that proactive adoption of optimized MBD manufacturing could become a competitive differentiator for some suppliers, enabling a foundational capability that ultimately drives growth for both the supplier and its OEM partners.

Every party will have a different cost-benefit outcome, and that will drive the decision making between OEMs and the supply base. This will be a collaborative and repetitive closed-loop process between businesses as they work together to design and manufacture parts.

We are still in the transition phases from traditional product definition to MBD. Getting through the transitionary period will take patience and flexibility from everyone, as well as deep domain knowledge.

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