Implementing model based digital transformation creates an opportunity to reimagine engineering definition and manufacturing consumption workflows for the better—an exciting prospect for any forward-looking organization. However, as with any enterprise-wide change, challenges that come with large-scale implementation can throttle that transformation unless they are mitigated as part of a proactive project plan.

Every organization is different and may endure its own unique struggles with model based definition (MBD) implementation, but a few common challenges will crop up regardless of your situation. Within this article we will discuss five MBD implementation challenges and suggest solution approaches that can ease the transition to digitalized processes.

Challenge #1: Gaining Cross-Functional Commitment

Depending on the size and structure of an organization, gaining cross-functional commitment can be a deeply embedded challenge.

Although MBD transformation originates in the engineering department, it requires support from cross-functional teams and departments elsewhere. Selling the idea of MBD and gaining buy-in can be difficult when it requires resources and commitment from other areas of the business, especially traditionally siloed departments.

Solution Approaches

See below for four solution approaches that can help overcome organizational silos and gain cross-functional commitment:

  1. Clearly Define Purpose and Scope

Before doing anything else, define your purpose. Contextualize the goal by describing the problem you are working to solve and the reasons for digitalizing product definition operations. Once the purpose is defined, scope project phases. Project scope can include the boundaries of business processes that may change, transformation goals, future-state requirements, key performance indicators (KPIs), deliverables, budget, timeframe, etc.

From a project management standpoint, defining the purpose and scoping are important because they frame the project intent in a way that is visible and unambiguous for all parties involved. Documenting purpose and scope and obtaining alignment early on are necessary precursors to creating a project roadmap and strategic plan for making MBD a reality.

  1. Form a Dedicated Cross-Functional Implementation Team

To facilitate cross-functional commitment, determine who is needed to make the MBD initiative happen. This will likely include both subject matter experts and leaders from the major organizational pillars that create or consume 2D drawings in the current state. Once the MBD focal points from the enterprise verticals have been identified, pull them together to form a lead implementation team.

Because MBD implementation is an enterprise-wide change, obtaining representation from multiple departments such as engineering, manufacturing, quality, procurement, supply chain, and information technology is crucial. Increased communication across teams breaks down departmental silos that can stymie implementation. As a bonus, a cross-functional lead implementation team will also give the initiative more credibility and quickly build traction throughout the workforce.

Even a small lead team can begin to act on technical tasks, like spearheading pilot projects that will provide real-time information and insights to solidify the value of MBD implementation efforts.

  1. Obtain Internal Agreement on a Multi-Year Enterprise Roadmap

A transformative step is to shift the MBD initiative from a grass-roots campaign to a top-down executive-backed strategy, thus making MBD the new status quo. This will require cross-functional commitment to an implementation roadmap that could span from five to fifteen years.

Gaining initial executive alignment is one challenge, but another is sustaining support during executive turnover, which could be every three to four years on average. To avoid restating your case every time the leadership team changes, there are a couple of things to consider:

How to gain buy-in before executive members move out of roles?

To gain executive buy-in, you need to put a strategic plan together that includes all project phases and their projected timetable. If you include an extensive strategic planning period, it is important to clarify how that connects to subsequent phases like readying for deployment and deploying at scale. If the link is unclear, you may get stuck in a cycle of restating your case with different executive members when you are ready to move on from planning to early deployment. Ensuring the strategic planning phase demonstrates valuable and tangible “off-ramp” is also critical. This is covered in more depth with solution approach #4.

How to sustain a multi-year endeavor with frequent leadership changes?

Your multi-year roadmap must show up on each executive member’s to-do list. To support visibility, there needs to be a KPI that is tailored for each executive to have accountability. If each executive isn’t responsible for a quantified performance metric, the MBD initiative may get lost in the shuffle.

  1. Use Agile Methodologies

Agile frameworks can be beneficial when working to implement MBD across an organization. A typical Agile methodology is designed to accommodate frequent change in project requirements, facilitate excellent communication and collaboration across teams, and ensure delivery of incremental product value.

Each Agile methodology has its own nuances and specifications, but most are structured to improve communication by requiring frequent check-ins between teammates as they work towards the delivery of value. This can be extremely beneficial, especially when working to gain commitment from others who report to different managers and/or sit in different departments across an organization.

Challenge #2: How to Start Doing MBD and Demonstrate Success
There is no one right way to implement MBD, but not having a solidified starting point and playbook of how to achieve your ultimate goal can make the process more challenging than it has to be. A methodical approach is key.
Solution Approaches

See below for two approaches that can kickstart your MBD implementation strategy:

  1. Coordinate Benchmarking Efforts

Benchmarking is a great place to start because it is a relatively small financial investment that can generate significant value. Even if your organization can only fund one person to go to model based enterprise (MBE) conferences and/or research publicly available data, you can start building up benchmarking intelligence to justify deeper investments.

Diving deep and gathering data on what direct competitors and industry leaders are doing in the space can provide insights to help craft a defensible MBD implementation strategy.

  1. Conduct an End-to-End Pilot Project

Once you gain the internal support and budget, conduct an end-to-end pilot project. Compared with the total investment required for MBD implementation, a single pilot is a small investment that should generate substantial value in return. Pilots allow an organization to make the switch from learning through research to learning by doing. To maximize pilot project learning and benefits, engage your team through product definition and into manufacturing phases.

If your products are primarily made through an external supply chain, engage with a trusted and willing external supplier to make the part with model based workflows. Confirm that you have agreement from the supplier that the pilot will be a highly collaborative activity where both the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and the supplier will be exploring together. Additionally, ensure that you understand and capture the challenges the supplier faces and what they must do to adopt MBD. Getting to see this process from the eyes of a consumer provides an invaluable full circle view of the MBD process.

Challenge #3: Reimagining Product Definition to Maximize Benefits

If MBD implementation were simple, everyone would have made the switch a long time ago. In reality, there are nuances and multiple layers to reimagining 2D product definition in a model based and machine-consumable manner. This adds a degree of difficulty that can hamper digital transformation.The benefits of MBD include a reduced need for human assumptions and fewer interpretation errors, thanks to an increase in human and machine readability. While increased machine consumption is a positive thing, consider the following pitfall when modernizing your definition approach:

Is your organization blindly assuming technology consumes data in the same way humans interpret it?

If the answer is yes, this could result in a major implementation challenge. An example is creating an inspection program for a coordinate measurement machine (CMM). In a 2D drawing based approach, a CMM programmer will apply best practices they have generated over time to ensure the inspection program confirms the quality of the product as defined on the drawing. This could take the form of knowing how many inspection points to use to ensure the conformance of a profile tolerance. It could also take the form of bridging product definition ambiguity into what the part producer knows or assumes is the real design intent. In both cases, the unique experiences of a single person are the lynchpin—creating the potential for inconsistencies between programmers or loss of crucial knowledge upon retirement.

In model based approaches, the need for rule-based logic and experienced interpretation is replaced, or at least minimized, with embedded software logic. So, the rules need to be codified into the program creation software and manual interpretation will need to be minimized by reducing ambiguity and maximizing machine-readable definition approaches.

Solution Approaches

Listed below are three solution approaches that can help make for a smoother transition when reimagining product definition processes:

  1. Embrace the Latest Industry Standards

When revamping product definition operations, rally around the industry standards that have been developed for, or are supportive of, MBD approaches. An internal campaign that stresses the importance of adhering to the latest industry standards – and minimizing the use of customer-specific legacy approaches – is a good place to start.

  1. Modernize Definition Approaches

To maximize MBD benefits, the product definition approach must be modernized to comply with the 3D landscape. Digitalize product definition approaches, don’t just digitize. That means redesigning the product definition approach to thrive in a 3D technology-rich environment, rather than simply incorporating modern technology and methodologies into old 2D processes. A simple example is changing an “Unless Otherwise Specified” profile tolerance general note on a drawing to a be a specified tolerance applied to the geometric features in MBD.

  1. Assess Organizational Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing Proficiency

MBD requires a 3D-based tolerancing scheme like geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T) to maximize human and machine interpretation downstream. GD&T controls 3D features with 3D tolerance zones, allowing the communication of functional design intent, unlike 2D directly-toleranced dimensioning schemes.

Assessing your organization’s GD&T proficiency is important when undergoing a digital transformation. MBD can be a trigger for exposing gaps in an organization’s GD&T proficiency because tools and software need GD&T to be correct and compliant with industry standards. If there are discrepancies or humans author non-functional product manufacturing information (PMI), the software could consume and execute it without question, potentially leading to the creation of inaccurate parts. Because of this, it is important to ensure both systems and humans are consuming data based on correct and compliant PMI.

Assessing your organization’s GD&T proficiency will give you a good baseline of your current state and enable you to establish a proficiency progression plan.

Challenge #4: Data Consumption
Modern technology and tools have progressed over the last several years in terms of system-to-system dataflow, but most organizations will still face consumption challenges of varying degrees when working to implement MBD.
Solution Approaches

Quantifying consumption challenges and gaps can ease the transition to model based practices. See below for a couple of areas to assess data consumption ability:

  1. Assess Interoperability Challenges

Assess machine-to-machine interoperability through testing. When testing and identifying interoperability pain points, think about your current software stack and its ability to reuse and consume data. If your current software setup is the underlying reason for poor data translations, it may be worthwhile to investigate alternative options.

The right software can significantly ease consumption challenges but selecting new tools and technology can be overwhelming with the sheer number of choices on the market. Partnering with consultants who know the space can be beneficial before investing in new software. If you do engage with consultation to navigate the software space, try to choose a consultant that does not have a software reseller relationship that might bias their recommendations.

  1. Assess Supplier Readiness

Assess supplier readiness through surveying. Assessing your supply chain on their ability to consume MBD and willingness to try something new provides a data-based approach to strategy development and mitigates consumption risk. Supply chain survey assessments are another task that requires a relatively small financial investment with a potentially large return on value.

Challenge #5: Readying the Supply Chain

The supply chain plays a significant role in MBD. Readying the supply chain and ensuring it can consume data in a model based format can be challenging, especially when working with external suppliers where you have less control over their processes and tools.

Solution Approaches

See below for two approaches to aid in readying your supply chain:

  1. Develop Supply Chain Strategy

Create a dedicated supply chain strategy tailored to the nature and capabilities of your suppliers. Mapping out the details is a prerequisite for alignment on how the supply base can support the overall purpose and goals of your MBD initiative. Additionally, conduct a gap analysis and identify risk mitigation strategies for inclusion in the plan. Doing so will create visibility into areas of proficiency and proficiency gaps.

  1. Ready Supply Chain for Deployment

To help ready the supply chain for deployment, set them up for success by providing them with the necessary materials and information. This is not a comprehensive list, but materials to provide suppliers can include an onboarding package, MBD training, a project roadmap, a template to capture consumption lessons learned, and help desk support.

 Overcoming Implementation Challenges

MBD implementation challenges may be temporary roadblocks, but they are not insurmountable with the right solution approaches. Finding a workable approach for your organization can help ease the transition to MBD. Belcan industry experts are here to help. To request guidance on overcoming model based implementation challenges click here.

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