Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

The Model-Based Enterprise Demands Standards, Says CIMdata

29 Apr, 2018 By: Cadalyst Staff

The product lifecycle management (PLM) consulting firm warns that a lack of standards can stand in the way of successful institutionalization of MBE.

Whether they create airplanes or apparel, companies involved in product design and manufacturing are increasingly embracing the concept of MBE. They face many uncertainties, however, beginning with the acronym itself: CIMdata Chairman John MacKrell explained during a recent CIMdata webinar that MBE may refer to model-based engineering — the integrated use of 3D digital models to manage data about a product throughout its lifecycle — but can also mean model-based enterprise.

CIMdata prefers the latter definition of MBE, described as “a vision to transform an enterprise’s engineering, manufacturing, and aftermarket services through product data reuse and derived context, rather than interpreting inputs and recreating the models and drawings.”

But sorting out terminology does not end the confusion. Many organizations are just starting their journey of MBE adoption, and standards and best practices are still evolving. “Not many people have institutionalized it … we’re really just becoming aware of how to do this,” said MacKrell. He explained that many companies are in an exploratory stage, asking questions such as, “How do I get away from drawings in production, how do I use the model more intelligently, how do I do virtual reality, how do I do augmented reality — and really, extract just a huge amount more out of the model?”

Although standards are something of a mixed bag at this point, MacKrell stressed that they are absolutely essential for success. “Without standards for MBE, it’s really difficult to understand how we’re going to communicate our designs, how we’re going to build and maintain our products, how we’re going to work across enterprises.”

Standards Support Reuse, Reduce Redundancy, Promote Understanding

According to MacKrell, standards facilitate data reuse throughout the lifecycle, and enable users to understand and support all the processes from a product’s design to its end of life. These may include bidding, 3D technical data packages (TDP); manufacturing; maintenance, repair, and operating (MRO); documentation that’s handed over to the project owner/operator; and more.

“The drawing process is a non-value-added task that you end up doing to document something you’ve already documented,” MacKrell explained. “The documentation really is the 3D model, and that documents [the product being created] much better than any set of drawings, and it’s much more easily consumed by people, and it’s much more easily understood by people.”

Rather than recreating what already exists, MacKrell explained, “I want to use my data over and over and over again to extract as much value out of that data as I can, and I need to be able to use methods and standards for instance to … take more advantage of that data.”

Much as CAD standards promote smoother, more efficient workflows by keeping everyone on the same page, standards in MBE provide a foundation for consistent processes. “If we don’t have standards, everybody goes their own way … we lose consistency,” he said.

Drafting standards, which are useful for drawing-based workflows, “aren’t good enough” to help users consistently communicate product manufacturing information (PMI) throughout the lifecycle, MacKrell warned; they don’t include all the information required for 3D model-based workflows. In addition, many students now are learning CAD modeling in school but not drafting, and as a result, simply can’t read drawings, so they’re not a good choice for clear communication.

The Challenges of Choosing Standards

It’s not that there’s a dearth of standards relevant to MBE; uncertainty comes from choosing which to adopt, since none are universally applicable, and they can reflect different concepts of design–build and maintenance processes. “There are lots of standards out there: standards can be helpful; standards can get in the way a little bit,” MacKrell noted. “We need standards to support data for the full product lifecycle. Right now, what we have is standards that support parts of the lifecycle, and a few that try to go across the whole lifecycle.” As for the hope of a single comprehensive standard, he said, “that’s a holy grail, and I doubt that we’ll ever get there.”

Therefore, it’s key that companies define their needs before wading into the available options. “No two organizations have all the same tool suite, no two organizations have all the same processes,” MacKrell said. “An automotive company will choose different things from a shipbuilder or an aircraft builder as their standards; they have different needs.”

And because standards still don’t have complete coverage of every specialty area — such as additive manufacturing, which is evolving rapidly — “you may have to develop … standard ways to annotate or share information in addition to what’s already defined and commercially available,” he pointed out.

It’s also important for companies to understand that adopting and monitoring standards is an ongoing process. Because standards are changing now, and will continue to evolve over time, “adoption is not necessarily a one-time event,” MacKrell pointed out. Companies must stay abreast of new developments and be nimble to keep up with trends, he urged.

Take Standards One Step at a Time

MacKrell gave an overview of a variety of standards, including the following of particular interest to CAD users:

  • ASME Y14.41, Digital Product Definition Data Practices, defines how models are annotated (with finish marks, notes, geometric tolerance information, etc.) in three dimensions. Because it provides a basis for fully documenting 3D models, this standard is the foundation for MBE.
  • ISO 10303-242 edition 1 and 2 merges a couple of older STEP standards for 3D model geometry. “One of the things we run into,” said MacKrell, “is that people think that 10303 is really a lightweight CAD data standard — no, it’s not, it’s really about documenting in 3D.” This standard is a key support defining models so they can be used and reused throughout the whole manufacturing, repair, and operation process, he explained.
  • ISO 14306 (JT) and ISO 14739-1 (3D PDF) are “sort of competitive, but a lot of organizations use both of them,” MacKrell pointed out. “One of the issues I have with 3D data is, not everybody has CAD solutions. And even if I have a CAD solution, I’m usually getting data from other CAD solutions … so I have to have ways of looking with that data and dealing with that data and working with that data; plus I would like to take my 3D data and communicate it to all kinds of people that have no knowledge about CAD.”

MacKrell urged that companies be selective in choosing standards, and ask themselves, “What kind of information has to flow across that continuum of your suppliers, you, and your customers?”

But whatever they choose, companies must understand that moving to MBE is a considered, gradual process. “You have to do this in an organized fashion, you can’t run out of the gate — we’re not there yet, we haven’t developed enough to where you can go out and just buy a solution and say, ‘Boom, I’m done.’”

In addition to easing into the technology side of MBE, companies should also understand that it’s as much a mindset and approach as it is a toolset. “The model-based enterprise concept isn’t just a technological issue; it’s really about the people and how they use tools, how the process is done,” MacKrell said.

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