Go Paperless! Model Based Definition (MBD) and What it Means for You

By Hunter Cordeiro


Every time I address a group of engineers about the idea of “going paperless” at least one (if not all) will sneer and say, “Hah, there is NO WAY you can get rid of the paper (2D) drawing”. In the words of Nobel Prize winner George Bernard Shaw I will reply, “Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it”. After all, 20 years ago people said that there was NO WAY that cars would drive themselves, that the cellular telephone would replace over a dozen commodities (including the phone), or that “selfies” and “twerking” would actually become a “thing”.

I guess my point is: We really have no idea what the future holds, all we can do is try to prepare ourselves for it.

As a CAD Applications Engineer I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of Model Based Definition (MBD), Digital Product Definition (DPD), 3D Product & Manufacturing Information (PMI), paperless or whatever else you call it (no, these terms are not fully synonymous… However, they achieve the same objective: no more paper). I have found that like most new ideas, the biggest form of resistance (leading to failure) simply comes from the fact that it is new and not fully understood. After all, if you are already successful at what you do then why fix something that isn’t broken? Hence the phrase “that is the way we have always done it” (sarcasm alert!). Because of this resistance I think that it will be quite a long time before model based definition / paperless product definition is fully implemented and accepted, but that does not mean that it isn't advantageous to start your own transition early on.

Case in point: Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing (GD&T) is a practice that is well over 50 years old (some of the founding principles originated circa WWII). However, it is STILL not fully understood or used by many companies. But why is it still around then? If proper use of GD&T did not allow designers and manufacturers to save time and money, don’t you think it would have faded away by now? The truth is that GD&T is a great tool when properly implemented. It has, however, suffered from the same type of fear, uncertainty, and doubt that occurs today with paperless product definition.

As with GD&T, paperless product definition is gaining popularity because large industry shakers have already started the process. Particularly I am talking about the Aerospace & Defense industry, which is one of the largest sources for manufacturing and R&D (also one of the first to implement GD&T). Companies that work somewhere along the supply chain in aerospace and defense are actually being forced to implement some form of paperless model definition (see Boeing’s D6-51991 Requirements). What I see from Boeing suppliers in particular is that they have an initial struggle with compliance due to investment in hardware, software, and training. However, once implemented they experience increased productivity, increased scalability, faster turnaround times, and more efficient communication due to the ease of use of 3D data (read more money in your pockets).

Model Based Definition - SOLIDWORKS Model Based Definiton
So what does SOLIDWORKS have to offer for someone looking to go paperless? New for 2015, SOLIDWORKS Model Based Definition is an integrated drawingless manufacturing solution for SOLIDWORKS 3D design software. You can define PMI directly in 3D, present 3D data in a clean and structured fashion, and customize 3D output templates. SOLIDWORKS MBD makes it easier to comply with industry standards (like the Boeing ones I mentioned earlier), as well as collaborate with all of the internal and external stakeholders.

After successfully 86-ing the paper drawings, I am sure you will find yourself moving from the resistant “this is the way we have always done it” to the newly enlightened “this is the way we should have always done it”.

Are you currently using paperless product definition? Please share your thoughts and experience in the comments section!

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