How Mechanical Engineers Can Prepare for a Model-Based Future


May 3, 2023


min read

When the first CAD programs were starting to roll out in the 1960s, it would’ve been hard to look ahead to the 2020s and predict exactly what the engineering world would look like. The same is true, now, if we try to nail down precisely how engineering will change even over the next 10 years. Technology has been evolving at a growing pace, and the Covid-19 pandemic forced an even greater rate of acceleration on digital timelines.

But even without 100% certainty on specifics of how the industry will change, there’s much consensus on some of the general trends that have long been gaining momentum. One of these is a model-based future. From Model-Based Definition (MBD) to the full-on Model-Based Enterprise (MBE), the engineering world has been steadily heading in this direction for years. The technology is starting to catch up to the vision, and we’re seeing industry leaders gaining the organizational capacity to make big shifts to the way their product development happens. That’s why, in June 2021, our team at CoLab hosted a webinar on this topic in partnership with Assistant Professor Alison Olechowski from the University of Toronto’s Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering

Regardless where your team currently stands on the journey toward MBD/MBE, this post highlights insights from the webinar on how to prepare for the model-based future.

Model-Based Enterprises Aren’t Built Overnight

Part of preparing yourself or your team for a transition to model-based methods is preparing to take the shift in bite-sized chunks. Terms like Model-Based Enterprise, digital transformation and industry 4.0 have been around for decades now,  but our shared understanding of these concepts has continually evolved over time. In the late 90s and early 2000s, digitalization often looked very different than it does today.

It was common for a software implementation to take years to plan and complete, with large price tags and big commitments to single vendors being the norm. While this standard was already beginning to shift before Covid-19 hit, the pandemic created global conditions that required the fast adoption of purpose-built applications. Organizations opted for software that could solve their specific, urgent problems and could be rolled out both rapidly and remotely.

Looking back at 2020, many teams are seeing how this step-by-step approach can return tangible benefits more quickly than large-scale implementations—as well as the value in approaching their digital transformation one problem at a time, instead of looking for an “all-in-one” silver-bullet solution. In our June 2021 webinar, 64% of participants indicated they are actively educating themselves on MBE. This is an important part of the MBE journey for organizations as it will allow them to make an informed decision about a useful next step to take, based on their unique needs and goals, so they can move forward faster.

Trusted Sources Help You Cut Through the Clutter

If you do a quick Google search for “Model-Based Enterprise,” you’ll get more than 800 million results. That’s a lot of info, and it’s not all created equally. Trying to sift through resources to find the information that can actually help you understand what you need to be doing today so that you’re prepared tomorrow—it can result in simply closing your browser and sticking with the way your team currently works. 

It’s one thing to know there’s “probably” a better way to do certain things but it’s another thing to figure out the specific action plan that makes sense for you and your team, right here and now. That’s why organizations that are doing this well start by seeking out sources they can trust to take the mountains of information out there and distill it down to the need-to-know. Finding the right sources for your MBE information is as important as using the right tool for the job when building something. Not only will it help you know what to do, it’ll help you filter out the noise of resources that don’t deliver the substance you need to move forward on your MBE journey.

For our June 2021 webinar, we chose to partner with Assistant Professor Alison Olechowski from the University of Toronto’s Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. Dr. Olechowski runs the Ready Lab at U of T, where her and her team study how engineering teams collaborate on product development in the industry today. As our team at CoLab Software works to make engineering collaboration easier for innovation teams, we also practice what we preach by working collaboratively with trusted partners like Dr. Olechowski and Ready Lab.

To Get Answers, You Need to Ask Questions

Moving toward a Model-Based Enterprise, or simply beginning to incorporate model-based practices in your organization, isn’t a switch that gets flicked. It’s going to look different for different teams. Transitioning toward MBE will require looking at existing processes first and evaluating the effectiveness of those processes relative to what you’re trying to accomplish.

“We want you to walk away with more questions than answers,” says mechanical engineer and CoLab Product Manager Mark Morreale in the June 2021 webinar. “We don’t want this to be a discussion where we preach to you about what Model-Based Enterprise is ‘supposed’ to be. What we want the audience to be doing is going back to their own organizations and their own work, and asking the right questions about—how can we improve communications among the various stakeholders in our organization, and external to our organization?”

At a time when there are more software and technology solutions available than ever before  and more access to information than any one person can navigate, it can be a daunting task trying to decide what’s worth your time and attention (and what’s not). But MBE has been around since at least the early 2000s. With digitalization at a tipping point, engineering is heading quickly toward a model-based future. It can feel overwhelming at times, for sure. But the sooner teams educate themselves on MBE, find trusted sources to rely on, and take small steps along  the MBE journey—the sooner that feeling of overwhelm will give away to feelings of excitement about the innovations the coming years are about to unlock.

July 22, 2021

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