MBD (Model-Based Definition): 2020 Edition

05 Jun 2020 by Jimmy Nguyen


Table of Contents

  1. What is MBD (Model-based Definition)?
  2. Why is MBD important?
  3. MBD Benefits & Advantages
  4. MBD Disadvantages
  5. How to Implement MBD
  6. MBD Resources

What is MBD (model-based definition)?

MBD is the process of having the ONE reference source: a 3D CAD model with semantic PMI (product and manufacturing information) or 3D annotations be the definitive authority model downstream.

It is a unifying aspect for design, manufacturing, quality and other disciplines to move away from traditional drawing-based workflows to CAD model-based with all production definition and geometry contained in one digital place- aka the "single source of truth."

The 3D model with PMI would include any of the following data:

  1. GD&T (geometric dimensioning and tolerancing)
  2. Bill of materials (BOM)
  3. Surface finish
  4. Weld symbols 
  5. Manufacturing or measurement process plan data
  6. Metadata & notes
  7. History of engineering change orders
  8. Legal/proprietary/export control notices
  9. And other definitive digital data

The most important takeaway about MBD is that the 3D CAD model with PMI should be both human and machine readable (interpretable by humans with data leveraged for downstream use) with full traceability to the authority model. 

Why is MBD important?

MBD Webinar - From Theory to Real World Practice 20200326

Process & Automation

Although we’re reaching the first quarter of the 21st century, there is a disconnect between design and manufacturing processes.

Designers develop in 3D CAD using tools like NX, CATIA, Creo, Solidworks, and others, however, their product and process information is then projected down into 2D drawings--some on literal paper--which is not machine readable.

Thus it takes the manufacturing or quality control engineer to MANUALLY enter the GD&T and other vital details into their CMM (coordinate-measuring machine), CAM (computer aided manufacturing), or CAI (computer aided inspection) software.

Traditional Approach MBD Approach
3D model with 2D drawing containing GD&T / PMI. 3D model with embedded GD&T / PMI.
Human-readable. Human-readable and machine-readable.
Reliance on personnel  & interpretation. Reliance on process & data.
Labor intensive, especially revisions & rework. Reduction of labor time because of upfront encoded knowledge.

Multiple, propriety data formats.

Universally accessible data.

Not mapped to a "single source of truth."

Data mapped to design model.

And in the new age of the internet and digital data, this manual action is in need of upgrading.

Manual transcription & interpretation increases cost, time, and risk to the manufacturing process, especially as the complexity of the 3D model increases and the number of disconnected documents pile up from different revisions, departments, and personnel working together.

Having an engineer do manual transcription leads to the weak link of the whole manufacturing workflow: an ambiguous process that is encoded in "tribal knowledge" that is not repeatable, not rigorous, not automated, and more prone to errors.

People quit, retire, or move on to the competition taking that knowledge with them, and leaving the next engineer to figure it out. MBD ensures for less errors, more time saved, and most importantly, company-encoded knowledge to be performed faster with quality repeatability. 

Data & Analytics

Industry 4.0, digital twin, digital thread, advanced manufacturing, and model-based enterprise.

Essentially, these terms and MBD are about using good quality data to solve business problems or improve business products.

Unfortunately for most manufacturers, that data is being unused. 

Quality and inspection departments carry out the validation of products coming out the shop floor, measuring parts and coming with pass or fail decisions. However, that data is rarely reintroduced back to ecosystem and often discarded despite being highly valuable

MBD ensures having data tied to the model for improved designs, improved parts, improved operations, and most importantly, improved business decisions.

MBD Benefits & Advantages

MBD advantages for CMM

Time Savings

The biggest elephant in the room is the number of man hours wasted by design and manufacturing engineers.

Designers spend up to 33% of their time on creating and modifying 2D designs.

Programming a CMM can easily take up to 20 hours depending on the complexity of the part. 

Manufacturing engineers usually sit side by side with the 2D drawing(s) on a second screen or even printed sheets of paper. They oscillate back and forth between the 2D drawing and CMM/CAM to read tolerance and surface finishes, and validate all information while manually entering in the requirements into their software.

The drawing-centric approach is an unnecessary complexity, introducing potential human reading and typing errors, wastes time on engineering documentation, increases hours for validation and manufacturing, and adds burden to the process.

Engineers freed from this manual task could focus on other important, value-add work. 

Engineers spent up to 33% on 2D drawings

Source: Tech-Clarity

An MBD workflow (or model-centric approach) using a 3D model with PMI is machine-readable and has all necessary manufacturing information embedded in the 3D model.

MBD ensures the design intent and final product align throughout its product development cycle: one authority source, one single truth that everyone can depend on. 

This leads to automation, resolves human error, provides cost-savings and speeds up the entire manufacturing process & iteration. 

MBD has proven to save up to 80% of hours spent in annotating, machine, and inspection and  reduce CMM workflow up to 81%.

It’s simple math considering the benefits of MBD.

Multiply the hours saved per manufactured part X the number of parts produced X the number of plants =  an the incredible number of cost-savings in time. 

The it’s-always-been-done-this-way mentality of using the 2D drawings with dimensions plus 3D models is a last-century practice when the only choice was flattening 3D models into 2D representations on paper. 

However, engineers now design in 3D. They and all downstream users don’t need 2D drawings anymore since product data can be directly embedded in the 3D model. 

Removing the 2D data from the workflow directly addresses quality assurance issues such as interpretation, duplication, ambiguity, and revision errors.

Bottom Line Impact

Traditional practices, processes, and tools are about stability & repeatability. In the manufacturing world, it's crucial to maintain what works.

However, the complexity of today's dynamic business environment means change is inevitable and getting into MBD is about staying relevant and profitable in a world of change.

The leading manufacturers in digital transformation initiatives see a minimum of 10% improvement, the best up to 20% in cost, capacity, and labor productivity as well as improved flexibility and agility of their supply networks.

Companies that truly understand the impact of digital manufacturing boost efficiency by 15-20% compared to the 2-4% of traditional continuous improvement programs.

Company Relevancy

Companies that didn't innovate.

Stability and repeatability is a cornerstone of the manufacturing world.

Unknown technology and ideas bring unknown risks.

However, risk also coincides with the rewards of innovation.  Innovation is RISK. Innovation is disruptive.

The biggest companies today stay relevant by leaning into the future and adopting an innovation mindset.

Avoiding risk, especially avoiding innovation has a long history of agile innovators taking down once-great market leaders:

  1. Kodak (Canon, Nikon)
  2. Blockbuster (Netflix)
  3. Nokia & Blackberry (Apple, Samsung)
  4. Yahoo (Google, Facebook)
  5. Xerox (Microsoft, Apple).

If you have any questions about MBD, ask away:

Contact Us

We're MBD nerds. From tools to pilots to processes, we're all things MBD and are glad to help or point you in the right direction. 

Top 15 Reasons You Should Go MBD


  1. Man hours saved: up to 80% total process hours saved compared to drawing-centric approach.
  2. Frees up engineering time for improving design and products.
  3. From skilled worker to smart worker: working on data & generating insights.
  4. Digital links between design and makers.
  5. Next generation of engineers see and design in 3D.


  1. Reduces human error through typing or interpretation
  2. Machine-readable 3D CAD & PMI for automation.
  3. Removes the “middle man” or engineering drawings.
  4. More feature-rich data for better instructions for the end user.
  5. More iteration and process breakthrough improvement.
  6. Higher quality inspections with measurement optimization algorithms
  7. Transparency and interoparbility along the whole process


  1. Better products, better pricing, better margins.
  2. Shorter product development cycles, faster time to market.
  3. Staying competitive, first-mover advantage.

MBD Disadvantages

MBD vs traditional process

Though the concept of MBD has been around since the early 2000s, adoption has been slow. Here are some of the reasons:

MBD is Disruptive

Doing MBD is completely different from 2D drawings requiring design engineers to do more upfront work for a bigger impact downstream which they don't get to see.

It also requires manufacturing engineers and suppliers to have the capability to receive MBD data and validate their models against the authority model in case there's a difference in CAD software.  

So it does require learning new or adjacent skills, processes, and tools to get MBD started. 

Resistance & Lack of Skill

Manufacturing processes is about repeatability and stability. In short, if it ain't broke, dont' fix it.

Change is hard and resistance to it is natural and encouraged.

Engineers do have to learn new skills and new ways to complement the MBD process.

Until there's a clear directive or event in the horizon, learning new things to get the "same" results isn't worth the effort.

Lack of Maturity & Strategy

MBD early adoption curve

In general, MBD is still in the early adoption phase while needing a few more years to reach early majority.

The innovators of MBD, especially the ones who have succeeded, aren't publicly sharing their results to protect their "secret sauce" and maintain a competitive edge.

This leads to a lack of definitive & concrete information, misconceptions of MBD, slower adoption, which effects the advancement of MBD software tools.

Therefore, MBD will continue to move slowly forward until companies find out what their top competitors are doing. 

Another roadblock is a lack of management buy-in.

Current and immediate MBD ROI is focused on time-savings and faster processes, but lacks the value-add punch that most senior-level executives and decision makers need to change business process.

MBD does produce the bottom line impact, but meaningful double-digital ROI can take up 5 to 10 years depending on the size of the company and speed to execution from case study to pilot project to company-wide implementation.

Think compound interest.

How to Implement MBD

Becoming an MBD champion

All downstream organizations: quality, inspection, manufacturing, assembly, procurement, service, suppliers, and others benefit using MBD since it cuts through the complexity of today’s system to reduce time, cost, and risk.

But how does one start the process of MBD?

It can be overwhelming; however, starting small is the best method since it begins with a focus on benefits that are more immediate and obvious:

  1. Define the stakeholders: who uses 2D drawings and how are those drawings used within the company.
  2. Infrastructure: Document current practices, data exchange, and technologies. 
  3. Opportunity: Identify a current process that can be improved. Begin a pilot project to test MBD .
  4. Reporting: Track progress during downstream handoff.
  5. Bottom-line Value: Measure ROI with MBD with either time or cost savings.
  6. Expansion: Continuously expand into other MBD projects in slow and sure manner while building up the education level of MBD users.

MBD Workflow Example

Inspection workflow:
  1. Identify measurement tasks aka Bill of Characteristics. 
  2. Store information in MBD model to generate FAI (first article inspection) or PPAP (production part approval process) documents.
  3. Assign measurement plan.
  4. Generate inspection program for CMM.
  5. Gather results.
  6. Carry out statistical analysis.
  7. Tie back to MBD model for single source of truth.

CMM workflow:

Current State of CMM MBD approach to CMM
Manual transcription of GD&T / PMI. Encoded design knowledge.
Translation and interpretation errors. Transcription errors eliminated.
Requires skilled CMM technician. Frees up skilled engineers time.
Personnel and machine dependent. Reliance on process over personnel.
Labor intensive Drastic reduction of labor time.

Multiple, propriety data formats.

Universally accessible data.

Not mapped to a "single source of truth."

Data mapped to design model.

MBD-Ready CAD Formats

The heart of MBD is interoperability. 

MBD CAD files are neutral-formats that are interoperable between different CAD programs such as SolidWorks, PTC, NX, CATIA, Autodesk, and others.

The most popular MBD CAD files are QIF and STEP AP242. Both are machine-readable file formats, which can be opened and examined by human engineers and also unambiguously imported by software tools. 

MBD Resources:

MBD Standards:

  1. ASME Y14.5 and ISO GPS (Geometrical Product Specifications): These standards govern the use of geometric dimensioning and tolerancing — GD&T. Having a solid understanding of the principles of GD&T will help to ensure that your MBD-based processes are well-defined, efficient, and stable.
  2. ASME Y14.41: This standard provides guidelines for how to go about creating your digital product definition in 3D. 
  3. ASME Y14.47: This standard provides schemas for organizing CAD models. 

MBD Maturity Index:

NSE MBE Maturity Index: assessment tool for companies to find their level of MBD/MBE-readiness. Download presentation slides.

MBD Conferences

These conferences are entirely dedicated to MBD or have good tracks related to MBD.

  1. Model-Based Enterprise Summit
  2. 3DCIC (3D Collaboration & Interoperability Congress)
  3. GPDIS (Global Product Data Interoperability Summit)

Need more information about MBD workflows or starting points?

Contact Us

Contact us and we'll glad to help or point you in the right direction.

Additional Reading

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