Who we are

AFNeT, PDES, Inc., and prostep ivip have created the Model-Based “x” Interoperability Forum (MBx-IF) as an umbrella organization to promote the international use of STEP (ISO 10303) for the exchange of product data between different systems across multiple domains.

The MBx-IF addresses Computer Aided “x” (Design, Manufacturing, Inspection) (CAx), Product Data Management (PDM), Electrical Wiring Interconnection Systems (EWIS), and Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE).

It provides a trusted environment for user companies and software vendors to openly discuss requirements and technical challenges, develop a common understanding of the various topics, and derive robust interoperable approaches to implementation. The umbrella organization is intended to intensify the further development of the STEP standard through cross-domain integration. Its tasks also include the organization of STEP benchmark tests.

The goals of the MBx Interoperability Forum are to:

  • Implement functionality for today’s needs
  • Identify functionality for tomorrow’s needs
  • Avoid roadblocks by establishing agreed upon approaches
  • Increase user confidence by providing system and AP interoperability testing
  • Ensure new functionality does not adversely impact existing implementations

The MBx Implementor Forum is significantly improving STEP translator quality and decreasing translator time-to-market.

Project History

Testing the exchange of STEP data between different software tools reaches back to 1994. During that year, PDES, Inc. in the United States established its STEPnet activity for testing the first commercially available STEP translators for AP203. Meanwhile, prostep ivip started its RoundTable activities with several CAD vendors focused on the development of AP214 for Automotive Design. In both cases, initial on-site testing activities evolved into ongoing distributed efforts.

As time went by, the overlap regarding scope and participants between the two initiatives increased. This led to difficulties when different agreements were reached on similar topics. It also meant a high workload for everyone involved, on the technical as well as the administrative level. Consequently, the STEPnet and RoundTable initiatives were merged to form the “CAx Implementor Forum”, in short, the CAx-IF.

The first joint test round with active participation by eleven vendor companies took place from May to July 1999 with meetings in Darmstadt, Germany. The Round 1J (‘J’ indicating joint testing) Test Suite document, which is publicly available on the CAx-IF homepage to this day, includes test cases for the following functionalities: Associative 2D Drawings, Surface Geometry, Assembly Structure, and Colors & Layers.

Initially, three Test Rounds were conducted each year. After the foundations of STEP data exchange were established, this was reduced to two rounds starting in March and September respectively. This aligns well with the vendors’ development cycles as well as the hosting organizations’ overall schedules.

Extensions over Time

The French AFNeT association joined the team in 2016, thus extending the organizational foundation of the CAx-IF. They contribute to the STEP AP242 development and, in addition, supported the CAE-IF for the exchange of Finite Element Analysis information based on STEP AP209 together with PDES, Inc. This forum shared its technical and organizational foundation with the CAx-IF and was active for four years. It is currently on hold, waiting for new user requirements.

Around the same time, prostep ivip and AFNeT together launched the PDM-IF, which focuses on exchanging product master data, including topics such as configuration and change management, based on the XML representation of AP242. The latest addition to the family of STEP-centered interoperability projects is the EWIS-IF for Electrical Wiring Interconnection Systems.

In addition to broadening the scope, each Implementor Forum was also amended with a dedicated User Group developing harmonized industry use cases and providing prioritization of topics as well as acceptance criteria. To communicate that the scope of the projects reaches beyond mere implementation, the designation was changed to “Interoperability Forum”. It has become evident that coordination and harmonization between the various project groups supporting the implementation and use of STEP is just as important as the work within each team.

Thus, the organization was completed by forming the MBx (Model-Based “x”) Interoperability Forum as an umbrella organization for the CAE, CAx, EWIS, and PDM-IFs to further optimize the workflow. In August of 2021, AFNeT, PDES, Inc., and prostep ivip signed a corresponding Memorandum of Understanding. It provides the foundation for easy collaboration between the various groups and facilitates harmonized processes based on shared infrastructure.

Success Factors

A high level of engagement and motivation by everyone involved has been the hallmark of the MBx-IF for more than 20 years now. The non-disclosure agreement (NDA) signed by all members of the group can be seen as one of the main foundations for this success. Colloquially referred to as the “Las Vegas Principle”, it ensures that all detailed testing results and vendor-specific discussions remain within the group: What happens here, stays here.

This has created an atmosphere of trust allowing STEP developers from different companies to openly discuss implementation issues and mapping of native system constructs to achieve common solutions that work for everyone.

Participants at the CAx-IF Round 50J Review Meeting, September 2022 in Charleston, SC, USA

Just as important for the project’s overall success: the close interaction between users and implementors. The discussions within the team allow each member to challenge their conceptions with other points of view and to prioritize topics at an industry level. This is imperative for the smooth integration of new capabilities into the existing scope. It enables the forum to fulfill industry needs without breaking existing implementations.