Digital Engineering vs. MBSE: What Are the Main Differences Between the Two? 

Computers have been transforming all disciplines of traditional engineering for the better part of the past 50 years: first slowly, then suddenly.

The exponential acceleration of innovation has introduced one major challenge—how do we foster interoperability between engineering platforms?

Digital Engineering (DE) and Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) are complex processes designed to bring traditional engineering into the next era of transformational innovation. 

Related but distinct, DE and MBSE provide foundational methods to help solve this problem of interoperability, incorporating different solutions in product data management (PDM).

We’ll look at Digital Engineering vs. MBSE, their differences, and whether they can provide the solutions the engineering world needs.

What Is Digital Engineering?

Digital Engineering (DE) represents integrating computer-based systems to optimize the functions found in traditional engineering. DE began as an initiative of the Department of Defense (DoD) and has spread outward to include every engineering discipline.

This methodology enhances team performance in four important ways:

  • Improving efficiency
  • Reducing costs
  • Accelerating processes
  • Increasing accuracy

Digital Engineering helps teams connect by providing a framework that aligns digital tools and data management for computer-based engineering.

DE optimizes numerous engineering roles and processes, including:

  • Electrical engineering
  • Systems engineering
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Analysis
  • Testing
  • Computer science
  • Simulation
  • Computer-aided design (CAD)
  • Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM)
  • The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) 

Digital Engineering uses digital models to accelerate processes and to provide a foundational means of uniting segmented teams, so that every stage of a development lifecycle can be improved with shared information across platforms and disciplines.

What Is Model-Based Systems Engineering?

MBSE is a form of digital engineering in which models are generated for the purpose of digital design, development, analysis, simulation, and testing. MBSE is used to generate digital objects and also complex digital systems.

MBSE vs. Traditional Systems Engineering    

In traditional engineering, modeling relied on technical drawings, notations, and calculations. MBSE applies DE to traditional engineering processes to modernize and streamline systems engineering in an optimized digital format.

MBSE can help teams better communicate and collaborate throughout the lifecycle of engineering projects, where models can interface with numerous engineering software suites using a product data management (PDM) platform like PROSTEP’s OpenPDM.

MBSE can use graphical models, text-based models, and any applicable combination of the two. The model is used as a single source of truth that can be shared across multiple stages of engineering. It helps teams collaborate and maintain accurate, current data.

What Are Digital Thread and Digital Twin?

Digital Engineering and MBSE involve overlapping concepts, tools, and frameworks that help optimize their processes. Both Digital Thread and Digital Twin are important elements of systems engineering.

Digital Thread

Digital thread represents a unifying concept in Digital Engineering and MBSE. It is a methodology for maintaining digital information end-to-end across every stage of a product lifecycle and over multiple disciplines. 

Digital thread is meant to act as a framework for interoperability so data remains traceable for separate teams that rely on different software platforms.

Digital Twin

Digital twin is a crucial element of MBSE and the greater field of Digital Engineering, where computer modeling is used to create a virtual representation of physical objects and systems. The digital twin is the object or system being modeled: a range of abstractions that can be tested and analyzed in real time. It is a replica of a physical product and its surrounding systems, or a greater dataset of connected systems. 

It is used for replicating conditions that can be monitored, tested, analyzed, and used for predicting potential challenges, so engineers at every developmental stage can make improvements quickly, effectively, and at a low cost. The digital twin represents all the data needed for simulation, development, and other engineering processes.

Digital twin relies on real-time data to feed insights to the model, like data from sensors in the case of Internet of Things (IoT) smart devices, for instance, to accurately simulate behavior and performance under real conditions.

Can Digital Engineering Work with MBSE?

Digital Engineering and MBSE often work hand-in-hand. Where DE encompasses the broader field of systems engineering, MBSE acts as a subset that benefits from applying computer-based tools to solve engineering challenges in design. 

DE provides the concepts of using digital data and the underlying computer processing required to simulate systems, and MBSE specifically applies these principles to object and system models.

Integrating the two helps teams communicate and collaborate in real time across every stage of the development lifecycle.

Improve Your Processes with PROSTEP

PROSTEP understands the challenges engineering teams face. Our unique tools help you bring all of your data together for the most challenging product lifecycle management systems. Our products help to standardize your data from one team to the next. Your information flows effortlessly through the digital thread without bottlenecks or inaccurate data exchange.

With PROSTEP’s solutions, you will be able to minimize errors, accelerate communication, and reduce costs throughout every stage of development.

If you’re ready to integrate, migrate, and synchronize your system communication, get in touch with PROSTEP today!


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