Drawingless or Paperless?

With the launch of SOLIDWORKS Model-Based Definition (MBD) 2015, I’ve heard lots of enthusiastic feedback from multiple job functions across the entire production cycle.   For example, a manufacturing engineer pointed out: “I see MBD as a Poka-yoke [a.k.a. mistake proofing] opportunity in the elimination of 2D files by using the native model. I currently have an issue where I need to update over 200 drawings for tooling. Implementation of SOLIDWORKS MBD would have saved considerable time and expense.” A test engineer is even more excited: “Just having the 3D PDF, manufacturing can identify issues. And the ability to add comments is huge. I wish we had this tool 20 years ago…”   So is a supplier: “The ability of identifying issues with drawing clarification and increasing efficiency on our end is huge. The ability to have a single container that holds all the part information can be a real-world time saver.”

There are also concerns. A major one is that shop floor doesn’t have computers to view digital models and dimensions. When asked about the challenges towards SOLIDWORKS MBD, several customers listed: “Costs of implementing hardware (workstations for 3D visualization) at the shop floor.” Or “In a dirty metal working environment, it’s challenging to use computer equipment rather than easily reprinted paper copies.” Or “Lack of data access on factory floor.”

Aha! If this is your concern too, you can now relax. Here let’s clarify two concepts: Drawingless talks about presentation style: 3D, not 2D; Paperless specifies communication media: digital, not paper-based. They are related, but totally different. Drawingless is what SOLIDWORKS MBD (Figure 1) is trying to help with: bypass 2D drawings by directly defining, organizing, and publishing dimensions, tolerances, surface finishes and other Product Manufacturing Information (PMI) in 3D. It represents a natural step in the continuous manufacturing upgrade from 2D to 3D. I said “natural” because most of us have thought about defining 3D PMI, haven’t we? A recent survey indicated that more than 2/3 of SOLIDWORKS users have considered it because it’s a very logical step forward. The mainstream engineering community has been designing in 3D for over 20 years. But why do we have to always come down to 2D drawings? Why can’t we convey PMI directly in 3D? This is the essence of drawingless and it’s not a stranger to us.

Figure 1: SOLIDWORKS MBD: a drawingless manufacturing solution

Drawingless doesn’t mean paperless. Quite contrarily, often times, we do need paper documents instead of computer equipment, as pointed out by the above customers, in a dirty metal working environment, on a greasy shop floor, in a narrow gas turbine chamber, or at an extremely cold installation site with hands in thick gloves (like in the snowy and gusty Boston this winter). SOLIDWORKS MBD recognizes this need and supports different paper sizes and orientations as shown in Figure 2.


Figure 2: SOLIDWORKS MBD 3D PDF Page Setup

So, of course, we can print out our designs for different jobs if needed. Figure 3 shows what I have printed. It illustrates design in 3D (intuitive and integrated) and bypasses 2D drawings.

drawingless_or_paperless_figure_3.png-728x546 Figure 3: Paper printout from SOLIDWORKS MBD 3D PDF

Actually, according to Dr. Prashant Kulkarni, paper drawing on demand is what GE Power and Water did with its MBD implementation, or in their words, “Pseudo drawing” in Figure 4 to aid transition and accommodate downstream consumers such as engineering and manufacturing, where needed. This “Pseudo drawing” is not strictly traditional 2D drawings. Here is how it works:

  • It starts with a single source of data in PLM: 3D models along with attributes, signatures, template, complementary documents…
  • Second, a group of 3D PMI Views are created: some are in 3D, while others are exactly like traditional 2D drawing views (Top, Section, Detail…).
  • Third, these 3D PMI Views are put onto sheets: one view per sheet with a border around. Here the template is applied with the meta-data populated from PLM such as part numbers or signatures.
  • Then users can print them out selectively just like 2D drawings.


Figure 4: GE On-Demand Pseudo Drawings

Although it’s not optimal for product model-based definition, at the initial stage, “pseudo drawing” helped to get through the MBD implementation barriers. It satisfies the needs of engineering or manufacturing because it is something with which they are accustomed.  Also it doesn’t take as much time as traditional 2D drawings because it is only created on demand leveraging existing 3D PMI views. However, to protect the authority of 3D, “pseudo drawing” is not checked into PLM system.   “Pseudo drawing” practically bridged the gap between MBD and 2D paper drawing convention. It also naturally leads to the next MBD phase: with the help of 3D PDF, do we really need all those traditional 2D drawing views? Can we combine some? Do we really need detailed views?   The above talked about drawingless and printouts where needed, while Paperless focuses on conveying information digitally. No printout is required because all the information flows between computer devices. Now we are indeed talking about digital monitors on the shop floors. However, paperless doesn’t mean drawingless either. A digital monitor can display a variety of documents, including 2D drawings as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: A digital monitor displaying a 2D drawing on the shop floor.

So rest assured: SOLIDWORKS MBD isn’t forcing us to buy hardware on shop floors. We can still get lots of mileage just by defining 3D PMI onto models and printing them into paper documents as long as current processes require it. Digital equipment can certainly further streamline production, but it’s not a necessity in an MBD process.   To learn more about SOLIDWORKS MBD, please visit the product page, or discuss with me at Twitter (@OboeWu) or LinkedIn (OboeWu).

Oboe Wu

Oboe Wu

Product portfolio manager of SOLIDWORKS MBD, passionate about smart manufacturing opportunities, Keen listener to customer challenges, Sharp problem solver with 20 years of experiences in engineering, Sleepless father trying best to take care of a baby daughter.
Oboe Wu