The process of product development has changed significantly since the advent of modern parametric, feature-based 3D CAD software. Today, the 3D model has become an enriched gem of IP filled with intelligence that is tapped by nearly everyone involved in the creation, manufacture and support of today’s products. That 3D model is also leveraged continuously throughout the product’s development and lifecycle, from design down to manufacturing, product documentation, sales and marketing, and service and support.
A new approach to product development takes this concept a step further. The concept of model-based engineering (MBE) uses a digital “master model” (not necessarily CAD) from which all downstream activities can be derived to create the final product. In this context, “design” is merely creating geometry, while “engineering” is the use of physics-based rules to develop new products.
How it’s done
So how does it work and how is it different from traditional product development approaches? For one, the master model can be different, in both scope and setup, depending upon the nature of the problem being tackled. A MBE product model not only contains the geometry, or CAD data, but also additional information needed for production and support. This could include geometric dimensions and tolerances (GD&T), material specifications, bills of material, process specifications, and inspection data.
The MBE approach requires engineers to model and simulate an entire system operating in its setting in order to fully understand the system’s behavior, whether it’s a machine or a mechanism. An advantage to this approach is that the integration of engineering-design models within an MBE environment helps pinpoint design-performance problems as they arise.
Proponents say the approach can eliminate the need for physical prototypes—a costly and time-consuming bottleneck in the traditional process of product development—and enable engineers to simulate and iterate as much as necessary to narrow in on the best design. It works by integrating design models at the appropriate levels of fidelity across engineering disciplines (mechanical CAD, structures, performance, cost, reliability, thermal, etc.).
Companies are already beginning to see pay-off in productivity gains from implementing the MBE approach to product development. A study conducted by the Aberdeen Group documented significant time and cost savings when model-based techniques were compared to conventional engineering practices. In addition, savings and time compression of a factor of five were found in the engineering change management process.