Initiating a pilot project is an essential step in the model-based definition (MBD) journey because it’s where talk turns into action. A pilot project offers organizations an exploratory, dynamic way to kick things off and avoid wasting months – or even years – hashing out the details of hypothetical MBD implementation.

An end-to-end MBD pilot project entails creating a part within your existing delivery system without a 2D drawing. Taking this approach and walking through the various steps it requires is valuable because it reveals who interacts with the product definition throughout the design and manufacturing processes. It also highlights how operations will need to change to incorporate MBD successfully.

Approach for Starting Out

Scale and complexity are important considerations when planning a pilot project. Keep the first project small with the goal of moving the product through design, manufacturing, inspection, and delivery without a drawing. Select a low complexity part that allows you to focus on the process steps and helps uncover challenges that consumers of the model may experience along the way.

Many organizations delay pilots because they focus too much on refining their initial MBD strategy. Instead of getting stuck on the details, accept that you do not have all the information and dive into a pilot project. You will learn more by doing the work than by running through hypothetical scenarios. The experience and knowledge to be gained from performing an initial pilot will provide a foundational understanding of the space and fill in many of the gaps and unknowns you faced up front. This early, practical learning experience will save time and help your team generate higher quality results in the long run.

Pilot Project Value Opportunities

One of the most valuable aspects of pilot projects is how they allow organizations to discover their existing level of MBD maturity, delivering insights into the digital journey as a whole. While pilot projects should be low in risk, time, investment, and complexity, they will still deliver high impact learning that cannot be replicated through research and benchmarking.

Here are seven ways you can leverage low-risk pilot projects to advance your MBD initiative:

1. Organizational Change Management

Conducting an end-to-end pilot generates useful insights into your organizational change management needs. You want your product definitions to support work processes throughout the product lifecycle as much as possible, which means you need to understand how each role and work process interacts with the new file type. This will then inform how you define new processes, tools, and standard work to increase effectiveness.

Pilot projects can act as an accessible organizational change management vehicle because they pull in and involve stakeholders across the company and supply base to make the project happen. Thinking through the executional details of a project highlights who will need to be involved in the MBD journey within an organization, along with which departments will be impacted and how the organization will need to shift to accommodate MBD.

2. Create Future State Artifacts

Working with the 3D model for a pilot gives more insight into data elements and data structure than working with a drawing. Making the switch from 2D drawings to 3D models gives practitioners a chance to see what future state artifacts and processes will look like. It also provides a low-risk way for stakeholders to get comfortable with the new look and feel of digital product definition.

3. Modernize and Validate Product Definition Approaches

Modernizing and validating product definition approaches can result in several benefits, including opportunities for cost savings, consumption reuse, expedited first article inspection processes, validation of benchmarking efforts, and more. An MBD pilot project provides a low-stakes opportunity to understand how to unlock these benefits in the context of your organization’s unique needs.

When modernizing approaches, keep in mind that this journey is iterative. It will take time to interpret the new capabilities contained in 3D models and determine how they will affect your current work processes. Arbitrarily inserting new technology into old processes will not maximize results. Multiple periods of adjustment and recalibration are to be expected.

4. Solidify Stakeholder Buy-in

A pilot project can help build stakeholder buy-in. For executive teams, it is a low-risk way to enable the organization to act while providing the data and information needed to justify future investment. For product definition and manufacturing practitioners, understanding the value of MBD and why it is worth the effort is not always obvious—especially when it disrupts established methods. External benchmarking on MBD’s long term benefits and reference implementation success stories are in short supply. Pilot projects can help dispel confusion and provide more clarity on the scope and requirements of further commitment.

5. Explore Supply Chain Engagement

Pilot projects are an effective way to gauge MBD interest and maturity from the supply base. Authoring a supply base onboarding package and clarifying your intent can help you determine who your MBD partners will be.

When choosing a supplier to participate in the pilot, be strategic. Select a supply partner who is not only willing to try something new but is also motivated by learning. A learning-oriented partner will persevere towards a solution when challenges arise because they understand the inherent benefit of the process.

For example, a low-hanging fruit for the organization and supplier is automating the quality control plan with MBD. Inspection processes like FAIR (first article inspection reports), PPAP (production part approval process), and others are often done manually. The quality engineer takes data from 2D PDF drawings and re-digitizes into Excel or quality management software, which is redundant work, often time consuming, and prone to errors because of the nature of manual transcription.

MBD software like Capvidia’s MBDVidia provides an alternative to redundant, error-prone processes and can automatically generate FAIR reports, reducing inspection work time from 10 hours to 10 minutes.

6. Uncover Technology Challenges

Despite the fact that advancing technology does address data interoperability challenges, they will still exist and will likely be uncovered during the course of an MBD pilot. Your 3D models will have a lot more data that could benefit from being interoperable with other environments. If your pilot partner happens to be a company that does not have the same computer aided design (CAD) software as you, congratulations, you get to experience interoperability challenges!

Willingly putting yourself in a position to face interoperability issues may seem like a chore, but it will ultimately reveal a lot about the types of challenges you will face throughout the entire MBD process and how to overcome them. Having the opportunity to experience interoperability challenges during a pilot will expose how impactful the ripple effects can be to the overall product definition process. It will also provide insight into potential bottlenecks, how the project timeline can be impacted when pain points arise, and how to work as a team with the supply base to accommodate and overcome these difficulties.

7. Workflow Discovery

While there are no perfect workflows, pilot projects can be a big help in finding which workflows optimize your results. Through benchmarking efforts, you will encounter industry studies that expound on flawless workflows operating on bespoke combinations of software and systems. These are an ideal—but not necessarily a good representation of real-world conditions. In practice, you will most likely need to operate on a patchwork of systems and software that you do not get to select, and that may not be on speaking terms with one another.

In this case, experimenting with different workflow variations can help maximize benefits within the unique matrix of software, systems, and myriad configuration settings you have.

Capture the Value

No matter what your specific objectives are in executing a pilot project, documenting your learning is a crucial step. The entire point of the exercise is to capture learning, both successes and failures, and work from those findings as you move forward with MBD implementation.

Be proactive and create a template for documenting lessons learned during the pilot. Be thorough, thoughtful, and honest when documenting your current state as well as all project takeaways. The more detail included, the easier it will be for others to understand and use the information in future action tasks. Additionally, it will help when forecasting timing and details for future projects.

Keep in mind that you will likely need several different pilots to fully understand different manufacturing techniques and supplier operations, but an initial pilot will allow you to gauge your MBD maturity and learn what boxes you can check off the list from a discovery standpoint. Belcan is here to support you in your digital journey. Whether that includes needing guidance on kicking off an MBD pilot project or finding a starting point within the model-based space, we are here to help. To request more information on model-based initiatives and solutions, click here.

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