After the first article discussing “The Future of PLM,” now again a post in the category of PLM and complementary practices/domains a topic that is already for a long time on the radar: Model-Based Definition, I am glad to catch up with Jennifer Herron, founder of Action Engineering, who is one of the thought leaders related to Model-Based Definition (MBD) and Model-Based Enterprise (MBE).

In 2016 I spoke with Jennifer after reading her book: “Re-Use Your CAD – The Model-Based CAD Handbook”. At that time, the discussion was initiated through two articles on Action Engineering introduced OSCAR seven years later as the next step towards learning and understanding the benefits of Model-Based Definition.

Therefore, it is a perfect moment to catch up with Jennifer. Let’s start.


Model-Based Definition

Jennifer, first of all, can you bring some clarity in terminology. When I discussed the various model-based approaches, the first response I got was that model-based is all about 3D Models and that a lot of the TLA’s are just marketing terminology.
Can you clarify which parts of the model-based enterprise you focus on and with the proper TLA’s?

Model-Based means many things to many different viewpoints and systems of interest. All these perspectives lead us down many rabbit holes, and we are often left confused when first exposed to the big concepts of model-based.

At Action Engineering, we focus on Model-Based Definition (MBD), which uses and re-uses 3D data (CAD models) in design, fabrication, and inspection.

There are other model-based approaches, and the use of the word “model” is always a challenge to define within the proper context.

For MBD, a model is 3D CAD data that comes in both native and neutral formats

Another model-based approach is Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE). The term “model” in this context is a formalized application of modeling to support system requirements, design, analysis, verification and validation activities beginning in the conceptual design phase and continuing throughout development and later lifecycle phases.

<Jos> I will come back on Model-Based Systems Engineering in future posts

Sometimes MBSE is about designing widgets, and often it is about representing the entire system and the business operations. For MBD, we often focus our education on the ASME Y14.47 definition that MBD is an annotated model and associated data elements that define the product without a drawing.

Model-Based Definition for Everybody?

I believe it took many years till 3D CAD design became a commodity; however, I still see the disconnected 2D drawing used to specify a product or part for manufacturing or suppliers. What are the benefits of model-based definition?
Are there companies that will not benefit from the model-based definition?

There’s no question that the manufacturing industry is addicted to their drawings. There are many reasons why, and yet mostly the problem is lack of awareness of how 3D CAD data can make design, fabrication, and inspection work easier.

For most, the person doing an inspection in the shipping and receiving department doesn’t have exposure to 3D data, and the only thing they have is a tabulated ERP database and maybe a drawing to read. If you plop down a 3D viewable that they can spin and zoom, they may not know how that relates to their job or what you want them to do differently.

Today’s approach of engineering championing MBD alone doesn’t work. To evolve information from the 2D drawing onto the 3D CAD model without engaging the stakeholders (machinists, assembly technicians, and inspectors) never yields a return on investment.

Organizations that succeed in transitioning to MBD are considering and incorporating all departments that touch the drawing today.

Incorporating all departments requires a vision from the management. Can you give some examples of companies that have transitioned to MBD, and what were the benefits they noticed?

I’ll give you an example of a small company with no First Article Inspection (FAI) regulatory requirements and a huge company with very rigorous FAI requirements.


Note: click on the images below to enjoy the details.

The small company instituted a system of CAD modeling discipline that allowed them to push 3D viewable information directly to the factory floor. The assembly technicians instantly understood engineering’s requirements faster and better.

The positive MBD messages for these use cases are 3D  navigation, CAD Re-Use, and better control of their revisions on the factory floor.


The large company has added inspection requirements directly onto their engineering and created a Bill of Characteristics (BOC) for the suppliers and internal manufacturers. They are removing engineering ambiguity, resulting in direct digital information exchange between engineering, manufacturing, and quality siloes.

These practices have reduced error and reduced time to market.

The positive MBD messages for these use cases are unambiguous requirements capture by Engineering, Quality Traceability, and Model-Based PMI (Product and Manufacturing Information).

Model-Based Definition and PLM?

How do you see the relation between Model-Based Definition and PLM? Is a PLM system a complication or aid to implement a Model-Based Definition? And do you see a difference between the old and new PLM Vendors?

Model-Based Definition data is complex and rich in connected information, and we want it to be. With that amount of connected data, a data management system (beyond upload/download of documents) must keep all that data straight.

Depending on the size and function of an organization, a PLM may not be needed. However, a way to manage changes and collaboration amongst those using 3D data is necessary. Sometimes that results in a less sophisticated Product Data Management (PDM) system. Large organizations often require PLM.

There is significant resistance to doing MBD and PLM implementations simultaneously because PLM is always over budget and behind schedule. However, doing just MBD or just PLM without the other doesn’t work either. I think you should be brave and do both at once.

I think we can debate why PLM is always over budget and behind schedule. I hear the same about ERP implementations. Perhaps it has to deal with the fact that enterprise applications have to satisfy many users?

I believe that working with model versions and file versions can get mixed in larger organizations, so there is a need for PDM or PLM. Have you seen successful implementations of both interacting together?

Yes, the only successful MBD implementations are those that already have a matured PDM/PLM (scaled best to the individual business).


Model-Based Definition and Digital Transformation

In the previous question, we already touched on the challenge of old and modern PLM. How do you see the introduction of Model-Based Definition addressing the dreams of Industry 4.0, the Digital Twin and other digital concepts?

I just gave a presentation at the ASME Digital Twin Summit discussing the importance of MBD for the Digital Twin. MBD is a foundational element that allows engineering to compare their design requirements to the quality inspection results of digital twin data.

The feedback loop between Engineering and Quality is fraught with labor-intensive efforts in most businesses today.

Leveraging the combination of MBD and Digital Twin allows automation possibilities to speed up and increase the accuracy of the engineering to inspection feedback loop. That capability helps organizations realize the vision of Industry 4.0.

And then there is OSCAR.

I noticed you announced OSCAR. First, I thought OSCAR was a virtual aid for model-based definition, and I liked the launching page HERE. Can you tell us more about what makes OSCAR unique?

One thing that is hard with MBD implementation is there is so much to know. Our MBDers at Action Engineering have been involved with MBD for many years and with many companies. We are embedded in real-life transitions from using drawings to using models.

Suppose you start down the model-based path for digital manufacturing. In that case, there are significant investments in time to learn how to get to the right set of capabilities and the right implementation plan guided by a strategic focus. OSCAR reduces that ramp-up time with educational resources and provides vetted and repeatable methods for an MBD implementation.

OSCAR combines decades of Action Engineering expertise and lessons learned into a multi-media textbook of sorts. To kickstart an individual or an organization’s MBD journey, it includes asynchronous learning, downloadable resources, and CAD examples available in Creo, NX, and SOLIDWORKS formats.

CAD users can access how-to training and downloadable resources such as the latest edition of Re-Use Your CAD (RUYC). OSCAR enables process improvement champions to make their case to start the MBD journey. We add content regularly and post what’s new. Free trials are available to check out the online platform.

Learn more about what OSCAR is here:

Want to learn more?

In this post, I believe we only touched the tip of the iceberg. There is so much to learn and understand. What would you recommend to a reader of this blog who got interested?


RUYC (Re-Use Your CAD)  is an excellent place to start, but if you need more audio-visual, and want to see real-life examples of MBD in action, get a Training subscription of OSCAR to get rooted in the vocabulary and benefits of MBD with a Model-Based Enterprise. Watch the videos multiple times! That’s what they are for. We love to work with European companies and would love to support you with a kickstart coaching package to get started.

What I learned

First of all, I learned that Jennifer is a very pragmatic person. Her company (Action Engineering) and her experience are a perfect pivot point for those who want to learn and understand more about Model-Based Definition. In particular, in the US, given her strong involvement in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).

I am still curious if European or Asian counterparts exist to introduce and explain the benefits and usage of Model-Based Definition to their customers.  Feel free to comment.

Next, and an important observation too, is the fact that Jennifer also describes the tension between Model-Based Definition and PLM. Current PLM systems might be too rigid to support end-to-end scenarios, taking benefit of the Model-Based definition.

I have to agree here. PLM Vendors mainly support their own MBD (model-based definition), where the ultimate purpose is to share all product-related information using various models as the main information carriers efficiently.

We have to study and solve a topic in the PLM domain, as I described in my technical highlights from the PLM Road Map & PDT Spring 2021 conference.

There is work to do!


Model-Based Definition is, for me, one of the must-do steps of a company to understand the model-based future. A model-based future sometimes incorporates Model-Based Systems Engineering, a real Digital Thread and one or more Digital Twins (depending on your company’s products).

It is a must-do activity because companies must transform themselves to depend on digital processes and digital continuity of data to remain competitive. Document-driven processes relying on the interpretation of a person are not sustainable.