For this episode of the “PLM Quick 30,” we speak with Heather Promerene who walks us through the ins and outs of implementing model-based design (MBD). As a Senior Principal Mechanical Engineer at Northrop Grumman, she has lead several implementations from technical requirements to building a foundation from scratch.
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The transcript is close to a literal transcript of the spoken word. Please excuse any grammatical errors, spelling errors or break in the flow. The podcast is a non-scripted conversation with natural flow aimed to deliver value.
Patrick: Hello, everybody. This is Patrick Sullivan, your host of the PLM Quick 30 presented by ArcherGrey. I’m super excited about our guest today. She is somebody that I ran into years ago who actually specialized in leading an implementation of MBD for a new program.
Since we’re exploring definitions of digital thread and digital transformation, I thought she would be a great guest to have on the podcast to help share her experiences and hopefully you guys will get some good advice, and lessons learned, and best practices and leading practices as you listen to all of her great experience.
Today our guest is Heather Pomerene. She is currently employed at Northrop Grumman. Heather, did they acquire Orbital, is that how it happened, or was it a merger?
Heather: Yes, I started at Orbital, then we merged Orbital with ATK, which became Orbital ATK. then Northrup bought Orbital ATK.
Patrick: Okay, great. Now that I kind of walked in just a brief introduction, would you mind taking a few minutes to introduce yourself and give everybody kind of the history of who you are? Bring us to present, essentially.
Heather: All right, well, hello everyone. As Patrick said, I’m Heather Pomerene. Starting from the beginning, I guess, when I originally went to school, I never really had engineering in mind. I went to Old Dominion University, for those of you who know, that’s down in Norfolk, Virginia. Originally went for nuclear medicine and physical therapy, of all things.
Patrick: Oh, wow.
Heather: Yeah. Then ended up pivoting to mechanical engineering and motor sports. I remember my advisor saying I was crazy because it’s normally the other way around.
Patrick: Was there an impetus? What was the big turning point? Where were you inspired?
Heather: My college roommate would tell you that it was her. All her doing. She was in mechanical engineering as well, and we just had a long, all night conversation about what you can do with engineering and how many doors it can open. Pretty much the next day I went to my counselor and changed my major.
Patrick: All right.
Heather: The rest is history, yeah.
Patrick: Did she stay in engineering, by the way?
Heather: She did, yeah. She’s down in San Diego now working on the out of the Naval yard down there, yeah.
Patrick: Oh great. Okay.
Heather: So, my goal actually out of college was to stay in the automotive industry. That obviously didn’t happen, because now I’m in defense industry so I pivoted yet again. Started. Pretty much stayed in the same office for 12 years but changed businesses, companies three times. I just actually recently transferred out to California location for Northridge. That’s where I am now.
Patrick: Okay. What’s your role currently?
Heather: So, role currently, doing some engineering, typical engineering tech role, but I’m also doing some Windchill implementation for us here. Starting with doing some, basic Creo skills, model intent, integrity and stuff like that for the folks here. I’m trying to get them get a kind of a baseline to get them into an MBD environment in the future. So, starting all over again I guess.
Patrick: I was just going to say starting from scratch. Well, they lucked out. They’ve got somebody that has gone through a new implementation, and brought people up to new standards and a new way of creating product, which is excellent. I think they lucked out.
So, let’s dive into that a little bit. You had mentioned that you’re helping them with a Windchill implementation and then looking to implement NBD I assume once things start to get a bit more stable and the users have adopted Windchill, is that accurate?
Heather: Yeah. It’s not just adapting Windchill. I mean, there’s a lot that goes into the whole MBD process. There’s, like I said, design intent is huge. You want to make sure you have … your model integrity’s there. Because you’re removing the onus of the drawing. A lot of times people would just fake stuff on drawing or overdirection or things like that just to get what they need. And hash things into a model, not really modeling it properly.
You kind of have to tear away those layers, start from the beginning and that’s kind of what I’m doing now. Just trying to build up the kind of a basic set of skills that will then form into an MBD environment at some point in the future.
Patrick: That’s interesting because I’d be curious to know, you talk about the skills, so are you building upon … Because that’s one of the things I was actually curious about. Because if I remember correctly, a new program was beginning. And you were able to assemble a team that was eager to implement NBD standards and design to those types of standards. You were able to start fresh, but now you’re talking about building the skill set up. Did you have to do the same thing on the previous program?
Heather: Nope. Where I was before, we had already kind of developed our standards ahead of time. Going to NBD was an easy. Not easy, push the button, that was easy kind of thing, but it was more seamless. But for this new location, we just kind of have to go back a couple of steps in that timeline just to kind of make sure everyone’s on the same page. Because I am coming in new too, I want to make sure that everyone’s skill sets are … We kind of even them out a little bit.
Patrick: Okay. Well, I kind of jumped right into it. Let’s back up just a little bit. I have to be selfish because I’m interested … What’s happening in the industry, especially the last few years, people talk about digital transformation and digital thread.
I think it happened about a year ago. Somebody in a meeting, a client actually said, “Hey, can somebody please explain to me what digital transformation is? Because I hear about five different perspectives on that term.” I’m interested to hear what does it mean to you?
Heather: I’d say for me it’s the effect of digitizing our content, I think is the first step. And then the digitalization of the actual environment. Like with PLM or model based environment kind of thing. So, the two together I would say is more — put those two things in the bucket, it becomes digital transformation.
Definitely moving away from the paper, that’s a given. For those of you who saw my PTC LiveWorx presentation, I did two in a row Getting Rid of the Paper Junk in the Trunk was all about MBD. It was as couple years ago. Definitely trying to move towards more collaborative environments, not trying to work in a vacuum, which is really hard to get out of that habit. So, not just collaborative amongst the engineers, but because you now have these downstream users who are going to be dependent on your model, getting in contact with them ahead of time before you’re making your deliverables, making sure you’re covering your bases there and things like that. But like I said, it is hard, because once you make that transformation, the emphasis is on model integrity.
And just getting into the philosophy of how you model things and not just why you have to do it this way, but that’s really important too.
Patrick: Well, so that’s a good segue. Can you explain to the audience what MBD is, for those listening that may not know what it is?
Heather: I mean, literally model based definition, model based design. You would make your model, your CAD model as it’s going to be manufactured. You have your full model intent in there and everything is assembled and/or created as if it were going to manufactured. You want to keep your relationships together. “This part needs to always stay with this par and linked together that way.” Things like that.
That’s the first step. Then you go into adding in your annotation plans and yada, yada, yada. Then you do your deliverable. So your deliverable, for us it was the Creo View viewable that was published once we checked it into Windchill. So, we were actually physically releasing the native CAD model and the deliverable. We weren’t doing 3D PDFs, which I know a lot of people in the industry do. We eliminated an entire line item out of our release cycle.
Patrick: You were talking about the native PDF and the deliverable being released at the same time. And one of the things that you did different was that a lot of people in the industry are using 3D but you did not, if I heard you correctly.
Heather: Yeah. Like I said, I know a lot of people will still have a 3D PDF, where my philosophy is you’re still managing another piece of information. Yes it is 3D and yes, you do have your MBD in that 3D PDF. And anyone can access it, it’s a lot easier.
But if you can get your suppliers on board, your end users on board, to use a lightweight viewer like Creo View, you can release and manage your native CAD, do your deliverable. And that way you don’t even have to manage a secondary engineering document.
So, it enables the end user to take control of model and interrogate it on their own. Which then decreases the go backs you get a lot with downstream users and the engineering team. “What is this dimension? This isn’t matching up correctly.” And so on and so forth.
Whereas now they can, you’ve kind of put the power in their hands to interrogate it on their own. And it’s not fully dimensioned most of the time. They can interrogate those dimensions that they need.
Patrick: Were you able to accomplish that at Orbital?
Patrick: Using a native file, and forgive me if I say something off, so please correct me because I’m hoping that people are listening … that have the lack of knowledge that I do. So, we’re looking to help educate them. If the native file, 3D file is being leveraged, which I hear not needing to manage a secondary file is certainly a benefit. Is it standard that manufacturing folks go into a CAD file, and can interpret it and work through it?
Heather: Yep. We actually train them on the Creo View. We equip them on the floor with big screen TVs and things like that. We basically set up our Creo View viewables … The way I would say is like a book.
I want to start with an index or table of contents and I kind of want to step through that story. I want my model to tell that story. Weave that thread through this piece of digital information. Therein also lies how important it is for communication upfront. Because the guys on the manufacturing floor, because they now have the model, they may not need to see certain things annotated in the model anymore because it’s there for them.
Communication is really important. But yeah, I mean we train them on Creo View, they loved it. It really increased efficiency for them down there. in my book, that’s a win.
Patrick: So, I’m curious. we have clients where we’re helping them centralize their bill of material. And create more efficiency in that whole process. So, here we’re talking about any drawing centric environment where you would have an engineering bomb, right? And it’s passed over to manufacturing folks.
For one reason or another, the engineering bomb doesn’t have annotations enough to describe. There’s some retrofitting … or how it’s designed doesn’t necessarily mean how it’s built. Now you have a manufacturing bomb, which oftentimes is different from the engineering bomb.
And often, well, for these particular clients where it’s linear in fashion, where the goal is to get the product out the door, so engineering bomb, M bomb and then out the door, right?
And in some cases as built as delivered and then you have a service bomb thereafter. In that process that I just described of it being linear, you’re talking about having communication up front. Is there iteration that’s going on where, as when it’s on the floor actually being built, are they going back to the engineers? Who’s responsible for ultimately updating? Who owns the native file?
Heather: Yeah, absolutely that’s engineering. We actually managed our engineering bombs and our product structure and our emblems bombs were pretty in line with each other. That was another effort we endeavored at, roughly around the same time. That was a beast in and of itself. But a topic for another day.
Patrick: What was? I’m sorry.
Heather: The product structure, and the M bombs and the E bombs and everything all pretty much co aligning with each other. It was just another effort that we endeavored upon. I would say 90% of our bombs were matching. We tried to get everything to align with each other as best they could.
Patrick: Yeah. That’s great. Did you just have one bomb? Or was there still an E bomb and an M bomb even though you had implemented MBD and you’re dealing with the native file? Were there different bill of materials? Or is it a one bomb?
Heather: It’s one bomb. But our product structure, because the manufacturing folks could query the model, again, therein lies their model integrity, which flows up to your assembly level. We had to make sure that our assemblies were correct, naming everything was correct, we had the right parts in there, and so on. Because when they clicked on something it needed to match and align what they were looking at on the bomb.
Patrick: Got it. So, how did you validate all that? Is that with up front communication? Because even if you’re planning and communicating up front, I imagine that there’s still some iterative process associated to that.
Heather: Absolutely. There’s design checks. Our design leads check everything, verify everything. We’ll have a checker verify everything. Then it goes through another check. There’s many gates. But it’s important to check it all as a package, as one unit. And not just [inaudible]. Whereas people would just check a drawing without a bomb or without the model, you need everything together to tell that story.
Patrick: Yeah. Right. All right, I’m curious, how did you get selected to head up that effort? What kinds of things transpired for you to be in the position to the implementation MBD on that program?
Heather: I would say it was right at the time that we started to implement PLM as a whole. We were already doing PDM in Windchill but we were starting to transition into PLM. So, it kind of seemed like the perfect time. I was about to leave this new program. Yeah, just, the stars aligned. We said it was time. We wanted a source of truth. To be quite honest, I’m always up for a challenge. So, why not?
Patrick: Yeah, that’s great.
Heather: Let’s do it.
Patrick: Yeah. I think a lot of folks could use that bravery, especially when you’re trying to change CAD practices and CAD standards within an organization that has seen decades of success prior to.
Looking back at that scenario, I’m curious, when you think about what you wanted to set out to achieve, and did you accomplish what you set out to achieve? So, we’re talking about this opportunity and facing a challenge. What were your original goals, and do you feel like you achieved those?
Heather: I mean, yeah. Original goal really was obviously to implement the MBD. But also a big thing that we wanted to maintain was re usability. We may have several different dash numbers at the same base number, or we may have a couple of different variants that might be slightly different, but a different part number. So, the annotations would pretty much all be the same.
Whereas before we would put all that on a drawing and we’d say, “Same as dash 01 except for noted.” Or something like that. So, reusability was a huge factor in implementing MBD. I came up with a process that allowed us to do that. To this day I’m still getting feedback that it has saved a lot of time for the design engineers because they don’t have to keep redoing all this information and they can just take what they’ve already done and apply it to the next product.
And if they need to make a change, they can make the change once, regenerate it across the board and they’ve got that implemented. So, I wouldn’t say that … I can’t say that there would be anything that I would change in the way that I implemented it. In fact, going into this new endeavor, my plan is … You know, if I can get everyone onboard with it … Is to pretty much try to implement it in a similar fashion. Because it was successful in that regard.
Patrick: Will you be starting the same way that you did prior to? Because it was a new program, right? In this scenario it sounds like you’re trying to change away … Will you be doing it on a new product or will it be a new program also?
Heather: Most likely not, just the way things are there. We’d probably have to implement it mid program or something. If it comes to that.
Patrick: You said probably implemented as a new program?
Heather: Like, mid program.
Patrick: Oh, mid program. Okay. How do you feel about that challenge? You said you’re up for a challenge. The one thing that I consistently hear about is changing a culture, especially engineers that have had a lot of success throughout the years, trying to change those culture habits.
Heather: Culture starts at the bottom. Like I was saying, you have to start at the base of that ladder and change tiny thing by tiny thing. And slowly build that up so when going to MBD is an option, it’s a seamless decision. Because that skillset has already been developed, fine tuned, the models are in a good place and it’s a natural step.
Patrick: Going back to that other … You said you wouldn’t have changed much. But, do you have lessons learned that you can kind of share when reflecting back?
Heather: Lessons learned. Let’s see. Definitely trying to start more with … Like doing model centric drawings first. We did not do that. That might be just the one thing we kind of, for some of our suppliers we ended up doing minimally dimensioned drawings with the step file]. So, starting with the model centric stuff first. Model centric drawings. Making sure your models are up to snuff.
Patrick: How do you know that they’re up to snuff? When will you know that you’ve attained it?
Heather: I mean, that’s a personal thing. Making sure everyone’s the same start part. Basic stuff like that.
Patrick: Would a scenario be where you’ve run it through the entire process and you’re getting feedback from everybody who touches the model along the way and then you know that it’s the M bomb, because you were able to say that you were at least 90% aligned with M bomb and E bomb. Even though it was considered a single bomb you had to navigate through product structure.
Heather: Yeah. I mean, but doing a model centric drawing, I would say having that be your first step is … More of the focus is on the model itself and the modeling practice it as a whole. So, making sure there aren’t any buried features, or suppressed or frozen things in your model, that kind of stuff.
Patrick: I see. Okay.
Heather: Therein lies starting at the bottom, building up that skillset, making sure all of your models, as you go along, get up to that level of being able to be delivered as a model centric drawing with a neutral CAD format. Then once you’ve kind of gone through those iterations, and there haven’t been any major hiccups, then progress onto the next level, which then, you know, you start annotating your models. Investigate, maybe starting to remove the 3D PDF.
Heather: If that’s in your wheelhouse, you don’t do a 3D PDF, maybe you do the 3D deliverable like we did. The native document. So, yeah, it really just starts with having robust models.
Patrick: Got it. Thank you for touching on those lessons learned. We had touched on it, I’m sorry for bouncing around a little bit. We had talked about changing the standards in CAD practices, and the people, and you mentioning that it’s building blocks. You’ve got to start at the ground level. And that lesson’s learned of making sure that you are building clean models, right? You’re starting with model centric and then evolving from there so that you have a seamless entry into starting to design product, following MBD standards that are good and starting with a good model.
Do you get a lot of resistance from folks when you’ve talked about the process and the standard of doing it? Or do you have a lot of people that are intrigued? Because I know that you’ve spoken at conferences and tech committee meetings. And aside from just within your own organization, how do you feel the trend of the topic is catching on?
Heather: It’s definitely … People are intrigued by it. I really think that that’s the way the needle is going. Obviously with IoT and things like that, in the market right now you pretty much have to go to MBD if you want to stay current. But when we implemented it I would say it really wasn’t that difficult to sell. Once you let people know that, “Hey, let’s look at this drawing. It took your four different views just to define this one feature. Now, if I want to define this in the context of MBD, I can just do this in one combination state. And I don’t need to set out four different views, however many different sheets that are needed to do that.”
Once people actually saw it in action, and how much easier it would make their lives in the long run, it really just kind solved itself.
Patrick: So, how long is that transition? You say there’s intrigue once they see kind of the benefits. And it sounds like maybe an a-ha moment. But in order to embrace it and live in that world, how long does it take to realize the value?
Heather: I would say everyone’s different in that regard. I would say more of the young people just hop onboard right away. Because they want the newest, best thing all the time. So, let’s do it this time. Some of the folks who’ve been in the industry for longer, we might start with just introducing combination states as a concept. Having them just start to use combination states in the context of their models without annotations.
And showing that you can manage all these different view combination like reps, and visibility and things like that without having to manually go into your view manager and change everything every time you want to look at something different. And it’s right there at the bottom of your screen. You can toggle between it.
So, just starting there with some of those people that are the hard adopters, I can’t quantify a timeline for that. Because like I said, everyone is different in that regard. But therein lies, you really need to be respectful of how people learn. Everyone learns something differently. One global training method might not really apply to everyone. So, for those people that have difficulty, you need to kind of peel back that onion and see where you actually need to start and build up that skill set. Or show them what they need to see to get them onboard.
Patrick: That’s an insightful comment. Everybody learns differently, which people can identify with. But having one specific method may not work, especially for something so intricate.
Heather: Yeah. Absolutely.
Patrick: And everybody learning at different levels. So, taking a few steps back, and thinking about MBD, it’s a big decision for an organization to go down that path. And I think you can infer some of the benefits from all the things that you’ve discussed so far. But just talking about that topic, what are some major compelling justification and are pain points that implementing MBD helps address?
Heather: When you first implement it, you’re going to see I would say increased time and increased cost just in that learning curve. I think everyone needs to be aware of that. But then after everyone has been trained, everyone, it’s smooth sailing from now on, you’ve got gains in efficiency. Reduced time to market. Your model quality has improved. Your end product has improved. Just enabling the end user and improved communication. I definitely think the benefits are well worth the effort.
Patrick: It sounds like you’re sold on it.
Heather: Of course I’m sold.
Patrick: Well, I was curious to have this conversation coming from the new program to having cultural changes. But it’s apparent that you had a great experience and you see the light at the end of the tunnel. And just feel like it is the way to design product moving forward.
So, what advice would you have for folks out there that are looking to implement MBD with their organization?
Heather: Definitely patience. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. I know it’s all, it’s the shiny new bauble. But not to just jump right at it. Like I said earlier, take those baby steps. The digital transformation that you want to take is not an overnight endeavor. You have to try to accumulate critical experience with situations and factor it as you go along that helps build up that skillset. And if you go along that route and you build it up slowly, hopefully RLI should be realized a little bit earlier than planned. If all goes well. The MBD maturity level implementation ladder, I’m not sure that has made its rounds. I know PTC has one.
But just slowly implementing. Just climb that ladder. Level one, level two, level three and so on. And just focus on those things that are outlined on that roundabout ladder. So, start with model centric drawings. Boom, done. Okay. We went through a couple months, we’ve released 100 drawings, model centric. We’re ready for the next level. Let’s do it and just slowly make that transition. Hopefully that helps.
Patrick: Yeah, so how would you suggest somebody start to get educated a bit more?
Patrick: Yeah, what steps did you take? It sounds like you’re certainly experienced in various standards. So, were you attending conferences? Were you leveraging vendors to help understand it a little bit, get your arms around it to actually formulate a process that you know? Or at least would have confidence that would work? Because it sounds like by the time you were ready to implement it you had done all of that.
Heather: Yeah. There was a lot of legwork that I had done before we implemented it. There was a lot of testing that needed to be done as far as visualizations go, and publishing and things like that. I know Wysiwyg is a huge issue with Creo and the Windchill deliverable, which I believe is fixed in the new build.
Back then luckily I had a PTC contact that I worked with throughout my testing phase that we kind of developed some recipe files and things like that that got us what we needed as an organization for our deliverables. But definitely doing research with what’s out there on YouTube, on the PTC community sites, there’s a lot there.
I’ve got my old MBD presentations from the LifeWorX that I know are out there on the interweb somewhere. But yeah, there’s a plethora of information. Definitely first and foremost I would say use that PTC community site, or if you have an advisor contact or somebody, MTC, to get you down that right path.
Patrick: Yeah, that’s great. I don’t know if you’re open to this. But if people want to reach out to you directly or have questions, are you open to that?
Heather: Yeah, absolutely.
Patrick: What’s the best way for them to get in contact with you?
Heather: Actually through LinkedIn. I think people can email me through LinkedIn would be the easiest. Just search my name on LinkedIn and shoot me a message.
Patrick: That’s great. Well, listen Heather, thanks so much for taking the time. I know you’re busy and I was really looking forward to this conversation. And I definitely learned a lot. And I know everybody listening will gain a lot of good valuable tips as well. Do you have any parting words?
Heather: Good luck.
Patrick: We all need that. Good luck to you as well in your role in having another successful transformation and implementation of MBD. Thanks so much for talking about this topic. I appreciated it, Heather.
Heather: Thanks, Patrick.