How to Get Started with Model-Based Definition

How should we get started with Model-Based Definition (MBD)? This is a vital, but complex topic because even a simple change is hard, let alone a shift from 200-year-old 2D drawings to 3D model-based processes, but we can at least start the discussion here.

Implementation takes time and differs from company to company. At a higher level, it can be summarized into 3 key areas: People, Process, and Product.


People comes first. The MBD initiative must come from the management team, meaning it has to take a Top-Down approach. A Bottom-up approach would hardly work because MBD is not an individual project and cannot live in a vacuum. It concerns many different teams: engineering, operations, manufacturing, quality, purchasing, supplier chain, service and support, and so on, so all the key stakeholders must be briefed and educated on the What, Why, When and How of MBD. A dedicated MBD team is needed to drive the initiative through. We can talk about different roles, skillset and responsibilities in details later, but one key organizational behavior is people will follow the new behaviors defined by the organizational leaders.

Then there is Process. One key lesson learned at the U.S. Army is that NOT to start MBD with the toughest project. They mentioned in their initial MBD implementation test, River Army Depot picked their toughest piece of equipment, which had over 2000 parts. It was a very complicated process, and the team just did it once and forgot it. Also complex projects can easily frustrate teams. Paul Huang, the team leader reflected: “We took too big a bite and were too ambitious. We did make it work. It just brought a lot of growing pains.”

Instead, an easier process is to pilot with several small and quick projects. By going through several cycles, we can find new insights, learn from mistakes, establish best practices, and internalize these lessons, which will prepare us for a bigger and bigger bite. Remember: Fail, but fail fast at affordable loss and recover fast. There are many other process topics we can discuss later: project planning, communication, training, templates, documentation, best practices, import/export, data comparison/validation/certificate, and business system integration, risk management, tracking/measuring and so on.

Next is Product. In product design and manufacturing, it’s important to have the right tools that support the major steps of an MBD process such as 3D design, 3D PMI definition, 3D PMI organization, 3D data sharing, and Template customization. SOLIDWORKS MBD is an add-on for SOLIDWORKS, so all the above key steps are served. SOLIDWORKS has been and still is the leader to support MBD workflows. As early as 2007, SOLIDWORKS launched DimXpert, an intelligent and semantic 3D PMI creation tool in accordance to ASME Y14.5 standard.

What do I mean by Intelligent? A simple example: DimXpert will self-check to make sure user’s dimensioning and tolerancing decisions make sense. Errors and incomplete processes in PMI creation are made apparent to the user through tools such as the ‘show tolerance status’ and inherent warning messages.

What do I mean by Semantic? The 3D PMI created in SOLIDWORKS MBD is associated with the model and its intelligent meaning can be directly reused in downstream applications such as CAM and CMM. When the model updates, so does the PMI. Even better, when we select a 3D dimension, the corresponding associated features will highlight to give us an instant visual feedback. This is called “Visual Response” and is required by ASME Y14.41 standard. After 3D PMI creation, SOLIDWORKS MBD 3D Views can help organize the PMI. We can also publish the rich data to eDrawings or 3D PDF, in a custom 3D PDF template, created in the SOLIDWORKS MBD template editor tool, to cater to different documents and teams.

There is a lot more to talk about implementation details. Here is a blog series on 10 DOs and 10 DONTs. Please stay tuned and join the discussion. You may also visit SOLIDWORKS product pages to learn more about SOLIDWORKS MBD. My twitter account is @oboewu and I’d love to discuss MBD with you.


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.