Decoding Model-Based Enterprise (MBE) in CAD Landscape

Model-Based Enterprise

The evolution of the CAD space, coupled with the development of powerful CAD software, has transformed various industries. Gone are the days when engineers and designers had to use paper-based media to represent their 2D and 3D creations. Today, professionals use CAD software to design, model, visualize, and analyze their creations. They even export the CAD files to CAM software that simulates the manufacturing process and generates CNC programs with the help of post-processors. Beyond simplifying the work of designers and engineers and laying the groundwork for CAM software, CAD has also introduced a significant concept: the model-based enterprise (MBE).

MBE represents one of the technologies that manufacturing companies adopt and implement to digitize their operations. In fact, many manufacturers view MBE as an integral part of their digital transformation strategy, with a great many of them taking a keen interest in the concept when they come to the realization that traditional systems are holding them back. The MBE strategy prepares companies to use innovative technologies like additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, digital twins, digital threads, 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing and cloud-based CAD, robotics, automation, and edge computing, just to mention a few. Additionally, they develop and manufacture products with greater speed and responsiveness. 

To understand where MBE falls in the CAD landscape, how it is transforming the design and manufacturing spaces, and the benefits it presents to companies that adopt it, it is crucial to take a deep dive. The purpose of this article is to explore the concept of model-based enterprise (MBE) in depth, along with two related concepts: model-based definition (MBD) and model-based systems engineering (MBSE). 

Essence of Model-Based Enterprise

What is a Model-Based Enterprise?

A model-based enterprise (MBE) is a manufacturing organization that manages and organizes its business processes through the creation and use of digital 3D CAD models throughout the product lifecycle, from development and manufacturing to quality control, maintenance, repair, overhaul, and more. The 3D CAD models define, represent, and manage various business aspects of the enterprise, including products, processes, and systems. Evidently, the 3D models form the foundation on which an MBE is built. 

The 3D models must contain all the data needed to clearly define and effectively communicate the characteristics of a product, process, or system. It is worth mentioning early on that we refer to the approach to creating such a 3D model as the model-based definition (MBD). Thus, a model-based definition is a crucial component of the MBE approach. 

Typically, an MBE employs MBD to define product specifications and requirements for all engineering activities across the product lifecycle, supplanting the prior era of reliance on paper-based or digital documents as data sources. CAD professionals create this product data, captured in the MBD/3D model, only once, with other professionals then reusing it for all downstream activities, including manufacturing and inspection. This points to the need for a mechanism of transferring data across the lifecycle, which is where the digital thread comes in. 

A digital thread is a communication framework that enables data flows between design, engineering, manufacturing, supply chains, and business processes. Thus, major players view the creation of a digital thread as the best approach to realizing the vision of a model-based enterprise. In fact, it is the digital thread that enables mature MBEs to work with external and internal stakeholders, like suppliers. And as you will see later, forming competencies that support the collaboration with external stakeholders is the last step in realizing a model-based enterprise. 

What Necessitated the Model-Based Enterprise?

Both the MBD and MBE address limitations that were prevalent in traditional practices. In the past, engineers and designers derived 2D drawings from the 3D models they were designing. They then used the 2D drawings to deliver product manufacturing information needed in the downstream stages. At these subsequent stages, they would again use the 2D drawings to recreate 3D models for other stage-specific product lifecycle work.

Even from the sound of it, this approach was very inefficient, costly, slow, and presented risks associated with the likelihood of making errors. Moreover, it condemned manufacturing companies to a largely document-centric operation. There was a clear need to change these traditional practices, especially in the face of competition. 

Companies needed to be fast, faster than their competitors. They also needed to use efficient processes that were cost-effective and anchored in accuracy and precision. And as the wave of digital transformation swept through the manufacturing industry, companies began implementing MBE and MBD strategies to digitize their operations. 

Adoption of MBE Strategy

According to a Deloitte study, today, over 85% of enterprises across various industries are initiating efforts to enhance and support their MBE capabilities. However, a separate study that surveyed 250 different manufacturing organizations observed that company size is a huge determinant of whether such organizations adopt an MBE strategy. 

The study noted that 39% of companies whose annual sales were greater than $1 billion already had a strategy to become an MBE, while 23% were considering an MBE strategy. By contrast, only 9% of companies with less than $100 million in annual sales had a strategy to become an MBE, with 55% having no strategy at all. The reasons for manufacturers’ intentions to become model-based enterprises lie in the value the concept brings. Which brings us to the benefits of MBEs: why should companies adopt the MBE strategy?

Benefits of MBE

Companies gain a wide array of benefits by adopting the MBE strategy. For instance, they realize transformations in design and manufacturing with MBE. The strategy also improves other operations within the organization. Here are the benefits of MBE vis-à-vis organizations’ operations:

1. Improved Communication and Collaboration

MBD enables an integrated and collaborative environment based on the 3D product definition. This, in turn, facilitates the rapid, seamless, and cost-effective deployment of a product.

2. Improved Efficiency

3D models enable faster design iterations, as designers can get feedback and input from their colleagues in other departments more easily and quickly. By working together, professionals can identify and resolve errors quite early on. As a result, they avoid situations where the errors propagate downstream, disrupting manufacturing and causing wastage.

3. Lower Cost

Scholars estimate that by implementing the MBE strategy, companies reduce the cost of product innovation, development, production, and support by 50%. For instance, it emphasizes the use of 3D CAD models that support simulations and analysis, eliminating or lessening the reliance on physical prototypes. This lowers the cost companies would have otherwise spent on materials and labor if they were to create multiple physical prototypes.

4. Reduced Time to Market

Studies have shown that adopting an MBE strategy reduces the time to market by 45%. In addition, another study found that using MBD can shorten by 75% the process of designing, manufacturing, and inspecting products. For instance, the use of MBDs, which support virtual prototyping, saves time, as companies do not have to create multiple physical prototypes.

5. Better Understanding and Interpretation of Products

In an MBE, engineers, team members, and other stakeholders gain early access to critical model-based data, enabling them to understand the products better. Better comprehension is also pegged on using data rendered in three dimensions rather than two-dimensional drawings and data. Moreover, the annotated 3D models provide stakeholders with contextual insights and measurements that boost understanding and interpretation.

6. Increased Quality

Traditional methods that required the use of 2D drawings were not infallible. They were prone to misinterpretation, which could affect the quality of production, force reworks, and cause delays. MBDs, however, solve these shortcomings. By using the validated and authenticated MBD as a central, authoritative source of information, MBEs eliminate conflicting, misrepresented, inaccurate, and missing information. This reduces errors and enhances clarity, resulting in increased quality.

7. Better Traceability

One of the hallmarks of a trusted MBD is its traceability. It makes it easy for the stakeholders within the organization to find the authoritative originator of data and the 3D model. Also, since MBEs embrace digital twins, digital threads, and other technologies, tracking products, processes, plants, and even people is easier. In this regard, the MBE and MBD strategies facilitate better traceability throughout the product lifecycle.

Full traceability allows manufacturers to implement changes far more easily than before. This way, they become evermore agile.

MBE’s Operational Framework in CAD

Transitioning from a traditional manufacturing enterprise to a model-based enterprise is a complex process for companies, regardless of their size. This complexity arises because developing and adopting an MBE strategy involves more than merely creating a 3D model with preferred CAD software. If this were the case, most companies in the manufacturing industry would already be MBEs. After all, they have been using 3D models for years. But it is definitely more than that. Complicating matters further, not all 3D CAD modeling software is suitable, as some lack the model-based definition capabilities crucial for establishing model-based enterprises.

Developing an MBE, therefore, necessitates the integration of product, process, system, service, and logistic models throughout the enterprise. To achieve this, a phased approach involving seven stages, as outlined in the MBE Maturity Index, developed by the US National Security Enterprise (NSE), is recommended. A manufacturing company uses this index to assess itself as a model-based enterprise. Put more broadly, the index is used as a rubric to evaluate the extent to which organizations have implemented the model-based enterprise strategy. While it is mainly an assessment rubric, it provides the steps companies can use to realize a model-based enterprise. It is a guiding compass.

Model-Based Enterprise Maturity Index Levels

Upon examining the seven stages, one will notice their foundation in both 2D drawings and 3D models. This emphasizes the importance of CAD tools. The table below summarizes the seven stages/phases of the NSE MBE maturity index:

NSE Model-Based Enterprise (MBE) Maturity Index Levels


Level Name

Level Theme



Disconnected 2D drawings used for all activities


Drawing Model-Centric

Managed 2D drawings that are derived from but disconnected from 3D models


Validated Model-Centric

2D drawings and other equivalent derivatives from validated 3D models


Formalized Model-Based Definition

3D models to which semantic Product Manufacturing Information (PMI) has been added (the 3D models have annotations and notes)


Trusted Model-Based Definition

Certified and authorized digital MBD


Integrated Model-Based Enterprise

The MBD dataset is integrated into and made usable within the entire enterprise


Extended Model-Based Enterprise

The MBD dataset is not only made usable for all downstream activities within an enterprise but is also equipped with optimized capabilities and includes partners

In each of these levels, manufacturing companies have to undertake various activities, including design, product data management, manufacturing, quality control, and enterprise-enabling activities. The figure below provides a more comprehensive summary of these points:

A table showing the comprehensive model-based enterprise index

Comprehensive Model-Based Enterprise Index (source)

The MBE maturity index does provide a step-by-step template that manufacturing companies can use to transition to model-based enterprises. However, for optimal outcomes, the index emphasizes the importance of companies placing significant trust in their models and associated data. It is this trust that will enable them to achieve various concepts, namely digital engineering, digital enterprise, automation, and, more crucially, the model-based enterprise.

Trust Framework for Model-Based Enterprises

Against this backdrop, the NSE developed the trust framework, which applies to models, datasets, artifacts, and associated components.

An illustration of the MBE Trust Framework developed by the US NSE

NSE-Developed MBE Trust Framework (source)

You will notice that the trust framework uses the terms defined below:

  • Signed: The originator of a model, e.g., a designer or engineer, guarantees the authenticity of the model, using agreed-upon criteria that also confirm the authenticity of the originator, which cannot be repudiated
  • Traceable: A traceable model is one whose authoritative source can be found
  • Authenticated: the model is proven genuine as created or issued by the originator; an authenticated model is traceable and signed by the originator.
  • Authorized: An authorized model is approved by a party in authority for use in a section or entire lifecycle
  • Certified: A certified model or dataset is confirmed to conform to protocols
  • Validated: A validated model or dataset is guaranteed to satisfy the intent
  • Verified: A verified model or dataset is guaranteed to satisfy requirements
  • Versioned: All successive revisions have been appropriately identified in their correct sequence and stored
  • Trusted: when a model has been certified, authorized, and authenticated, it is regarded with confidence and is now said to be trusted

Other terms that increase parties’ confidence in a model include:

  • Required: Mandated by an authority
  • Specified: Defined to minimally acceptable detail
  • Record: Permanently and irrevocably documented for future reference

The greatest level of trust is accorded to an artifact or 3D CAD model that is signed, traceable, authenticated, authorized, versioned, validated, verified, required, and specified.

Distinctions Among MBD, MBE, and MBSE

Manufacturing companies may adopt three model-based approaches and practices on their path to digital transformation. These model-based approaches are somewhat related. To understand the relationships, let’s look at what each entails.

The model-based definition, or MBD, is restricted to product manufacturing. It relates to the use of 3D CAD models to describe parts and products. The 3D CAD models capture necessary product information, including design intent, manufacturing notes, and component specifications such as Product Manufacturing Information (PMI). The PMI includes annotations, geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T) data and symbols, materials and bills of materials, surface finishes, revisions and version history, parts list, and quality requirements. 

These 3D CAD models, therefore, serve as authoritative and comprehensive sources of information for the product and the entire product lifecycle. As a result, MBD reduces errors, facilitates collaboration, and streamlines the design-to-manufacturing pipeline.

Model-based Systems Engineering, or MBSE, is an approach that uses CAD tools to design, document, and simulate complex systems as well as define their behavior, requirements, interactions, and functions. Under this practice, a digital model represents the entire system. This enables better analysis, communication, and understanding of the system.

Finally, model-based enterprise or MBE is a concept that brings together both MBD and MBSE. It is concerned with the entire product lifecycle. MBE utilizes the 3D models not only for design and manufacturing, as is the case with MBD, but also for maintenance, service and support, quality control, sales, procurement, and beyond. Moreover, an MBE integrates product, process, system, service, and logistic models across the entire enterprise. 






Entire product lifecycle

Product design and manufacturing

Systems engineering

Type of model

Product, process, system, service, and logistic models

Product model

System model

MBE and Modern CAD Profession

CAD Professionals in Traditional Dispensation

The MBD and MBE concepts have transformed the workflows of CAD professionals. Previously, they created 2D engineering drawings to communicate the quality requirements, engineering configurations, design intent, engineering and manufacturing notes, materials, and more. The professionals often used multiple separate documents to capture this information. This largely inefficient practice had a few disadvantages. 

First, it was prone to misinterpretation, given some vital information was in discrete documents and could be overlooked. This resulted in miscommunication that could easily lead to errors, production delays, plenty of wasted material, and rework. Second, it took up a lot of time, which naturally increased the cost of operations.

CAD Professionals in MBE

For its part, MBE has changed the narrative, with MBD conveniently taking the place of 2D drawings. Moreover, embedded within the 3D CAD models is information such as technical information, component specifications such as Product Manufacturing Information (PMI), annotations, geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T) data and symbols, materials and bill of materials, dimensions, various technical properties and quality requirements, the design intent, and any manufacturing notes. 

What this means is that rather than the information being in separate documents, it exists within the same file and is embedded within the 3D CAD model. The benefits of this approach on both companies and the CAD profession are clear. For instance, the MBD approach saves MBEs time, improves quality, and offers other benefits discussed earlier. What’s more, it enables professionals to work on more complex parts, assemblies, and products than before.

Modern CAD professionals have also had to learn how to use MBD software, whose unique capabilities are unavailable in non-MBD software. Also, they have to learn and know about the information they need to embed in the 3D models and how to embed it. 

Today, the modern CAD professional has to do more upfront work than traditionally. This is because their input is impactful from the very beginning and is useful throughout the product’s lifecycle. Simply put, CAD professionals set the tone for the smoothness of downstream activities.

Overcoming the Implementation Challenges of MBE

The transition towards an MBE is not easy. It is punctuated by hurdles and challenges that companies must overcome to take advantage of the MBE and MBD strategies. We have discussed these challenges and ways to overcome them below.

1. High Capital Outlay

The implementation of the MBE strategy is not cheap. It requires companies to invest large sums of money in software, training, and human resources. Moreover, an MBE also relies on technologies like 5G sensors, IoT solutions, cloud computing, robotics, automation, edge computing, and more to support multiple activities. Companies need to have a budget to adopt some or all these technologies, which can run into the thousands of dollars. 

Fortunately, companies need not dive all the way into the deep end; instead, they can progressively implement the MBE strategy, which can be a cheaper approach. In fact, they can follow the steps outlined in the NSE maturity index.  

2. Gaps in MBD Datasets

It is not always easy for professionals to establish beforehand the datasets and elements they should include in the product definition. This is partly because existing MBD standards and tools do not capture all the details. It is equally difficult for them to decide which information contained in a 2D drawing they should move to the 3D model. This issue is compounded by the fact that there are multiple workflows in a product lifecycle, each with its own set of information and elements.

To overcome this challenge, standards bodies have to develop comprehensive MBD and CAD standards. However, this solution may take some time to become a reality. In the meantime, companies must develop in-house practices that address this shortcoming.

3. Interoperability Issues

There are plenty of applications that offer different capabilities that are integral across various domains of the product lifecycle. In some cases, these applications are not always interoperable. The interoperability issues stem from differences in data types, languages, processes, systems, and more. 

Similarly, data is not always interpretable by all applications in an organization. This is particularly the case if different teams and departments involved in the product lifecycle use different types of applications. The lack of interoperability can lead to data loss when transferring data across different formats. It can also prevent long-term archival and retrieval. 

To overcome this challenge, companies can adopt software created by one company and incorporate modules and add-ons created specifically for that software.

4. Technical Limitations

As mentioned earlier, some 3D CAD software applications lack MBD capabilities. As such, these tools are incapable of fully defining product data. Thus, companies should be careful when choosing CAD software. 

An ideal tool should have the right tools and capabilities to incorporate data and elements from all the stages of the product lifecycle. They should also allow teams to include the semantics of this data and embed PMI. Moreover, the software should have capabilities for manufacturing and inspection, including computer numerical control (CNC), coordinate-measuring machining (CMM), and intelligent tooling.

5. Authenticity and Trustworthiness

Errors can arise at different stages in the manufacturing company’s operations. For instance, translation errors can lead to data loss or inaccurate data. Additionally, the model development technique or CAD software can be a source of errors. Unfortunately, these errors negatively impact the quality of the model, which puts into question its authenticity and trustworthiness. 

Yet, it is paramount that product data and 3D models have the highest degree of trust attached to them, which, in turn, guarantees their reliability. After all, they aim to support downstream activities throughout the entire enterprise. 

To boost trustworthiness, companies must ensure their model data is up to date, correct, and of high quality. They must also ensure the model and associated data are signed, traceable, authenticated, authorized, versioned, validated, verified, required, and specified. Only after a model has achieved the desired level of trust can it be certified as a master and used to support enterprise-wide activities.

6. Disruption

Adopting the MBE strategy requires companies to change their traditions and working patterns. For instance, they must change from using conventional drawings to MBD. They must also change their procedures and other practices their employees have grown used to. Such an enterprise-wide change is not easy. In fact, it can very easily be impacted by resistance from factions within the company and even external stakeholders. To overcome this challenge, companies can invest in training and consultations. Plus, they can implement the MBE strategy in stages, as the MBE Maturity Index prescribes.


The CAD landscape has transformed immensely, with companies and professionals in the manufacturing space adopting more efficient approaches to replace traditional practices. One of the approaches they have embraced is model-based enterprise (MBE). MBE brings together approaches like model-based definition (MBD) and model-based systems engineering (MBSE), as well as other technologies. Under the MBE, manufacturing companies use 3D models within which product information such as Product Manufacturing Information (PMI), design intent, and manufacturing notes are embedded. Such information-enriched 3D models are now known as MBD. They act as single sources of truth and are used throughout the product lifecycle. 

The MBE concept offers numerous advantages, including improved quality and efficiency, better collaboration and traceability, less time to market, and enhanced understanding of products. However, certain challenges can impact its implementation. Fortunately, there are ways to overcome these challenges. This article has captured everything to a tee, comprehensively decoding model-based enterprise in the CAD and manufacturing landscapes.

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