What Manufacturers Should Know Before Embarking On Their Model-Based Enterprise Journey

Naveen Poonian is the president and CEO of iBASEt, digitally transforming how complex products are built and maintained.

America’s aerospace industries, which have products both complex and costly, have pioneered the implementation of an emerging manufacturing system created to reduce costs, shorten delivery times and improve overall business performance. However, it is also a pattern that can be applied to industries outside of defense.

The foundation of that system, known as a model-based enterprise (MBE), is predicated on engineers designing a single, exquisitely detailed, 3-D CAD model of the finished product. These model-based definitions (MBDs) are fully annotated from the outset, and those annotations address every aspect of the product’s lifecycle, serving to guide each downstream phase of the manufacturing process as well as the product’s commissioning, operating, servicing and ultimate decommissioning.

An enterprise that uses MBDs to drive multiple aspects of its operations can call itself an MBE. Many manufacturers look at MBE as an integral part of their digital transformation strategy with the potential to help them become more competitive and responsive to market fluctuations and more resilient in the face of seemingly constant disruptions.

Digitally Transformed

One common source of misunderstanding involving MBEs is that they are a subset of the larger digital transformation movement taking place throughout the business world. They are among the current wave of recent technology acronyms and process terms that include 5G, the Internet of Things, mobile edge computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, cloud computing, digital twinning, robotics and much more—all of which are touted as key to digitizing manufacturing industries and commerce. However, depending on the company and its products, many of those same tools can also become elements of an MBE strategy; that can get confusing.

What’s important to keep in mind is that transitioning from a traditional manufacturing enterprise into a model-based enterprise doesn’t all happen at once. You can’t just flip a switch; it comes in stages. The U.S. National Security Enterprise (NSE) has developed an index of MBE maturity that includes seven phases ranging from drawing-centric organizations at one end to extended model-based enterprises at the other. It is a journey that companies, on average, require seven years before reaching full maturity.

The Journey

A recent survey of 250 discrete manufacturing companies found that the motivation to adopt an MBE strategy varied tremendously with the company’s size. Of those with annual sales in excess of $1 billion, 39% already have such strategies in place. That percentage declined with sales volume; only 9% of companies selling less than $100 million reported having MBE strategies. Even more telling is that those companies operating at higher levels on the NSE scale also tended to be those experiencing higher levels of performance than their competitors along a whole series of KPI metrics.

If you are considering a move in that direction yourself, here are some of the recommendations for adopting an MBE strategy based on industry experience and survey findings.

• Use MBE as an opportunity to rethink your overall business operations and goals.

• Consider using the MBE Maturity Index to guide your adoption journey.

• Use CAD tools with more mature capabilities for model-based product definitions.

• Work with a vendor experienced in your industry.

• Make sure top executives provide needed support and leadership.

• Make sure your staff understands the business value and benefit of MBE.

• Establish processes structured around 3-D models instead of 2-D drawings.

• Use a vendor involved with standards organizations to benefit from their best practices.

The Benefits And Challenges Of Adopting An MBE

If you are already considering adopting an MBE strategy or are in the process of implementation, you are likely motivated by the need to modernize your processes so that you can support future growth and meet your digital transformation goals. While the benefits of adoption are many, there are also a few obstacles that companies should plan to encounter and must overcome before they fully realize their MBE strategy.

One of the biggest benefits of an MBE is found on the shop floor, where engineers are able to gain a much better understanding and interpretation of the product in 3-D than had the design been made in 2-D. By unlocking the value of 3-D engineering models, MBE helps to automate downstream processes, improve efficiency, lower costs and increase quality.

Manufacturers also achieve better traceability when adopting an MBE. With full traceability, changes are easier to implement, making it easier to be more agile and quickly adapt to market, customer or supplier changes. More automation accelerates processes, leading to faster time-to-market, greater efficiency and less risk of errors, leading to cost savings.

On the other hand, there are a couple of hurdles that companies should expect to encounter when implementing an MBE. Properly training your employees is critical as you start your MBE journey. Initially, your engineers might not be aware of what the manufacturing needs are. Closing this communication gap is key to adopting an MBE. Also, while 3-D models are more intuitive, 2-D models are currently the dominant form of drawing. This means companies must focus on training to support existing staff on 3-D models to overcome adoption resistance.

Today, it’s easier than ever to modernize your processes and adopt an MBE strategy. While challenges exist along the road to adoption, organizations such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the NSE offer guidance on how manufacturers can maximize business value and monitor their progress. And with the right strategy, training and executive support in place, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying all the benefits a model-based enterprise strategy offers.

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