Why Companies are Not Ready for Single BOM?

December 19, 2012

Bill of Material is one of the fundamental things in engineering, manufacturing and product development. Whatever topic you start discussing, you end up with the discussion about BOM. Wikipedia, actually, provide a decent definition of Bill of Material. Here is the link and quote:

A BOM can define products as they are designed (engineering bill of materials), as they are ordered (sales bill of materials), as they are built (manufacturing bill of materials), or as they are maintained (service bill of materials). The different types of BOMs depend on the business need and use for which they are intended. In process industries, the BOM is also known as the formula, recipe, or ingredients list. In electronics, the BOM represents the list of components used on the printed wiring board or printed circuit board. Once the design of the circuit is completed, the BOM list is passed on to the PCB layout engineer as well as component engineer who will procure the components required for the design.

It sounds so simple and straightforward. If you just finished your “BOM 101″, you can think the topic is really easy to get. The complexity of Bill of Material management comes as a result of the process, which is happening around BOM during design, engineering, manufacturing and support. What defined as “different types” of BOM, in reality, representing people, teams, department and sometimes different tools and enterprise solutions.

Time ago, I posted about how companies can have a single BOM – Seven rules towards single bill of materials, which raised many questions and comments in the past. One of the ideas of having single Bill of Materials is to streamline processes across disparate teams and departments. Few weeks ago, I came across a white paper published by Arena – Beyond BOM 101: Next Generation Bill of Materials Management. Navigate to the following link to read the document. This white paper provides a very interesting picture, which demonstrates the reality of BOM management in any manufacturing company.


This whitepaper is highlighting a very important fact – during the design, engineering and manufacturing process, engineers need to update BOM in many systems. Here is my favorite passage explaining the complexity of BOM management.

A modern BOM often includes a complex set of hundreds to thousands of structured items… Even after the first product is built, the BOM will continue to evolve—whether due to potential bug fixes, design improvements, part substitutes, or supplier switches—until the product reaches its end of life. The time spent to manually make changes and fix mistakes throughout the lifecycle of a product may amount to a substantial delay in its shipment. With multiple teams inputting frequent changes, manual revision control processes can easily become overwhelming and chaotic. It is difficult to track which changes have been made to which revisions. There is a lack of “a single version of truth” —the latest product information including BOM—that all project teams can consistently and confidently rely on throughout the lifecycle of a product.

The main challenge in this process is to maintain multiple BOMs in different systems. So, the idea of single Bill of Materials can be easy materialized to solve the complexity of synchronizations. So, why companies often fail to establish this single BOM? I can identify 3 main reasons why it happens:

1- Companies are using variety of tools to design, build and support products. Single platform PLM is probably a dream that not going to be materialized. In most of the companies, multiple design tools (including CAD), product data management and ERP systems are creating a complicated eco-systems with many rules and dependencies.

2- Because of specialization, people are not interested to switch from specialized and tailored tools to somewhat less functioning but common. The change is complex, can lead to potential delays and involvement of IT in system deployment and data integration. People prefer to bump BOM between systems rather than use a single tool.

3- It is hard to agree on how to share a single structured set of information (single BOM) among multiple teams, department and organizations. To develop export/import functionality as well as multiple synchronization services is, unfortunately, the mainstream decision taken by many companies.

What is my conclusion? I think, companies need to have a single, sharable, structured BOM representation reflecting all aspects of product development. PLM vendors applause to the idea of single database, but most of the integration and data synchronization tools and techniques are still very premature. In addition to that, PLM vendors are usually trying to lock customer to a single platform solution preventing independent and open bill of material storage. So, all together it blocks customers from migrating their infrastructure and system towards “single BOM” implementation. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Back to basics: Should PLM Take Control of Your BOMs?

December 11, 2009

I got a comment on my blog yesterday stating “back to basics”. Why do we discuss advanced stuff at the time very basic issues are still open and require our attention? At the same time, I had chance to see Arena’s web site is stating about “control of the BOMs”.

So I decide to ask you – should PLM take control of the Bill of Materials in the organization?

In the past, I discussed various topics related to Bill of Materials. If you are new on my blog, you may consider to check the following posts:

When BOM seeks the right enterprise nanny…
Seven Rules Towards Single Bill of Materials
How we can socialize PLM Bill of Materials?
Is it time for a synchronized Bill of Materials?
Improve organizational performance by the management of multiple Bill Of Materials
and some others…

The question of “control” in Bill of Material space is related to the organization of different functional process spaces. Normally, they represented by a different department in the organization. Those organizations that have rigid borders between departments will continue to like an idea of control everything belonging to their department. However, some ideas about horizontal integration can lead them towards better integration of BOMs.

So, there are two fundamental options I can see:

1/ Split Bill of Materials between functional processes
2/ Lean organization of Bill of Materials as a single entity

I don’t think there is a solid decision these days about what to choose and how to manage Bill of Materials. However, I think there is a strong tendency to “lean” in the organizations. Multiple business systems and their respective marketing department will continue their war for market share. For me, the question of “control” will become less relevant and question what you can do and how you get value of product data can be considered as a more interesting problem.

Just my thoughts.
Best, Oleg

BOM: Overstructured, Understructured or Lean?

October 20, 2009

I’d like to continue discussion I started in my earlier postSeven Rules Towards Single Bill of Materials. So, what are possible collisions on the way to the single bill of materials?. So, let’s take design, engineering and manufacturing bills. When I look on opposite sidesdesign and manufacturing, the purpose, and as a result, how these bills look like. Design bill started from CAD and, obviously, take as a starting point, design structure. So, we can get very structured bill of material. As opposite, manufacturing bill of material foundation is manufacturing process. The levels of manufacturing bill are driven by manufacturing process definitions, stocking and other elements of manufacturing process. What is the role of engineering bill? Do we need it?

If I’m looking from the perspective of needs, it looks like engineering bill is not needed (wait for a moment, don’t kill me now :)). Design Bill provides information about how my product structured. Manufacturing Bill provides information how my product will be assembled (or build). However, I found distance between these structures / views is a huge, connection between them is not obvious. This is, in my view, place where product lifecycle technologies need to be focused – to step beyond pure design or manufacturing structures to engineering level and build lean engineering bill of material that will become master BOM in the organization.

What are the advantages of such approach? Master Engineering Bill will be able to connect design elements, especially those that related to custom manufacturing and will provide set of configurable modules. Master Engineering bill will support different techniques to create a condition-based structures and many others. From Manufacturing side, engineering bill will get required information about Item MastersDifferent elementsdesign and manufacturing, will be interconnected in this engineering bill, so no more missing parts or impossible product options.

What are the disadvantages of such approach? I see two major problemsneed to build unified data structure and synchronization work between department and people. The multiple bill of material approach solves problems of people collaboration and communication. Each department has their own bill, they are working on. The problem is in the endmissing parts on the shop-floor, missed dates or high product cost. In order to support, single Engineering Master Bill of Material, we need to find right technologies that allow to people to work simultaneously on different pieces of this bill, synchronize, change, update. This collective bill of material should be supported by PLM technologies looking on how to collaborate between design and manufacturing.

Just my thoughts.
Best, Oleg

Seven Rules Towards Single Bill of Material

October 14, 2009

I’d like to continue discussion around the topic raised yesterday by Jim Brown and this is about “single bill of material”. I was reading Jim’s post and my thoughts was about why managing of single bill of material is questionable? I think the key answer to that is because in a real company we have multiple systems and everybody are touching bill of material. So, since I hardly believe business owners of these systems will agree how to share Bill of Material, we do have a “multiple bill of material” status-quo.

Now, I don’t believe systems like we have in manufacturing companies – all these EDM, PDM, PLM, ERP, CRM, MDM… will be magically agree on how to share bill of material in short term. But at the same time, I think, our industry is spending mega-bucks trying to synchronize all these bill of whatever we have (materials, documents, processes, requirements, configurations etc.). So, since Daily PLM Think Tank is about ideas, I decided to put key seven rules that can bring us to the new status quo of “single bill of material”. May be definition of this bill of material in the beginning will be shared between multiple systems, but even so, it will create movement toward single bill of material.

So, here are my seven rules.

1. Complete Data Representation. Data in Bill of Material starting from Part Number and ending all characteristics need to be complete to satisfy needs on all “company-customers” in every department starting from sales and ending up in manufacturing and services.

2. Unique Part Numbers. We need to establish a central system to maintain by single system. If Part is going to change from Form Fit and Function standpoint, new unique Part Number need to be created.

3. Synchronized Changes. We need to prevent changes that potential can be made on partial data representation. Example could be changes in Design System without appropriated changes in manufacturing and all other systems or data collections.

4. To use Part Numbers only.
Bill of Materials need to be made of Part Numbers only. We need to prevent usage of any alternative identification such as – drawing numbers etc.

5. Include all scheduled items. We need to include all items that need to scheduled for manufacturing and shop-flow. Everything that going to production need to be incuded into bill. There is no item that will be excluded for whatever reason (i.e. non completed assemblies and semi-finished items).

6. Less levels will be better.
The simple solution is the most complicated one. Today manufacturing is struggling to become lean. I think to manage as less as possible levels in Bill of Material will allow to simplify significantly everything we are doing (including way to synchronize or management bill of material).

7. Complete Approval before change. All requested to change need to be approved by all people that are using Bill of Material before bill is going to change. This is will allows trust between users of the bill of materials.

So, in my view, by following such rules we can get much better quality Bill of Material in organization. This is not requires religious discussions about single vs. multiple bill of materials. In the end, nobody cares in how many databases/files/servers we are going to store this (or these) bill of materials.

As usual, I’m very interesting in your feedback. Especially on such non-technological topic. Please, let me know what do you think?

Best, Oleg

How to Improve BOM Collaboration?

May 15, 2009

I think everybody cares about Bill of Materials. This is quite fundamental for everything we do in Product Lifecycle Management. I had the chance to discuss many topics related to Bill of Materials < When BOM seeks the right enterprise nanny… >, < Is it time for a synchronized Bill of Materials? >…  Today, I’d like to focus on the aspect related to how we can collaborate better with BOM. But before we go into that, what does collaboration actually mean? Simply said, collaboration and collaborative tools should let people work together to achieve common goals. In the context of BOM collaboration – collaboration happens around the Bill of Materials. There are many tasks people do with BOMs – create, review, change etc… but the issue at hand is how can we improve the collaborative work of people in the scope of BOM?

I’d like to outline 3 main areas we need to work on in order to improve Bill of Material collaboration in the organization.

1. Context. This one focuses on how to find the right Bill of Material. If I have the right BOM, I can carry out my operations correctly. PLM is focused on a single point of truth. So, this should work for Bill Of Materials. We need to have easy access to the Bill of Materials stored in PLM (or other) system.

2. Role. Bill of Materials is different for different people in the same organization. When I access a BOM, I have a particular role that needs to be reflected. So, when a designer and supplier accesses the same BOM, they need to see different stuff.

3. Time. When you look at a BOM, it’s important to be able to collaborate/work together during a particular timeframe. Time is important when you work on a currently developed product make a change to an existing but already-built product. Being able to have many time-oriented views is an important aspect of Bill of Material Collaboration.

I will be glad to read your comments – let’s discuss this.

How we can socialize PLM Bill of Materials?

May 6, 2009

Last month, I wrote a few posts about Bill of Materials. My interest was to investigate how to improve Bill of Material and BOM management in the organization. In the post <Search for the right BOM – I’m feeling lucky? >, I discussed how many different BOMs we can discover in the organization and later <When BOM seeks the right enterprise nanny… >, I discussed the various trends in BOM management. I came to the conclusion that the organization is interested in managing a single Bill of Materials, but every person in the organization may have a different point of view on the same BOM, representing different aspects of product development.

Chris from Vuuch and Josh made some interesting comments <When BOM seeks the right enterprise nanny>. Their point was about the connection between people and parts in the Bill of Materials. Linking to people in the Bill of Materials can create a social dimension in the BOM. This gave me the idea of how to model Bill of Materials connect it to the organizational social environment.

How can we do that? Let’s think about a model where we can link between <person> and multiple <parts> in the Bill of Materials. These links can be created by users and kept in the database. As soon as the user creates these links, he or she will be able to render or display the Bill of Materials anyway the particular user wants to see it. Since these links will not destroy links between parts, they will be able to use it simultaneously. Imagine a single Bill of Material structure associated with multiple users. Users would be able to open the Bill of Materials and get a customized view, reflecting his or her particular Bill of Materials configuration.


I can think about this feature as a more advanced way of BOM Part <Tags>. Compared to literal Tags, the connection to users/roles allows us to customize way people work on the Bill of Materials and significantly improve the performance of people while they work on BOM.

When BOM seeks the right enterprise nanny…

April 29, 2009

Yes, I have come to the conclusion that the Bill of Materials (BOM) child is quite alone… probably because the BOM children were very popular and everybody wanted to take care of them . Just take a look at our closest environment . We do have a Bill of Materials in CAD/design, Engineering, Manufacturing, Support and Maintenance…. As I mentioned in my previous post, Search for the right BOM – I’m feeling lucky?, finding the right Bill of Materials in an enterprise environment is not simple.

So, the question I wanted to ask is how can we improve Bill of Materials, which fundamentally represents everything in Product Lifecycle Management – from the early requirements and design until production and disposal. My initial idea was about a synchronized BOM (Is it time for a synchronized Bill of Materials?). The biggest challenge I found is actually Bill of Materials separated by multiple systems in the organization. I’m sure you are very familiar with this problem. Bill of Materials have many flavors where each system tries to manage its own flavor of Bill of Materials. As a result, we have NO Bill of Materials.

I have seen a few trends in Bill of Materials management as of today:

1. Master trend. This is probably the oldest one. The idea is quite straightforward and based on trying to build master-relationships for the Bill of Materials. So far, when you have a master, you supposed don’t have a problem with multiple BOMs. But, to define such “master behavior” is difficult, and the process of master definition spans across time, products and technologies within the organization. It may work, in my view, in quite a synchronized and centralized environment. But if you take a more detailed look, you will find “another small BOM” somewhere around :)….

2. Multi-BOM trend. This one is quite established. As we said, there are many Bill of Materials – here we have an answer. We can manage many BOMs! With all the technologies we have today, we can manage as many as we want. Where is Catch 22? The governance model for Bill of Materials in this case becomes very problematic. Now we have too many BOMs and they are trying to state their single point of truth about what is going on with a product. Multiple tools around this problem can help you to compare, change, and even find inconsistencies, but the overall system becomes quite unstable, in my opinion…

3. Process trend. This is a new one, I discovered. We don’t manage Bill of Materials anymore. We do manage processes for organizations. Design, Engineering, Manufacturing. This sounds very reasonable. Process can formalize our activity around data and provide a reliable way to manage our ancient data life on a different level. So, in other words, – BOM is stupid and the process is smart. So far so good… Process management is a big scope. To implement it for an organization is not a simple task at all…. I’m just afraid, this is too much for “my small BOM child” :)…

So, what is my conclusion? I think we are still an the age where we need to find better technologies for managing Bill of Material(s). Do you know of any alternatives? I’m looking how to resolve the BOM problem within an organization and beyond…


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