PLM, demolishing silos and closed BOM loop

June 24, 2014

bom-closed-loop

Product development and manufacturing is getting more complex every day. The complexity comes from both direction – product definition complexity and globalization in manufacturing, supply and customer experience. As we move towards future cloud software, the importance of data platforms is growing even more. For the last 15-20 years, we are living in a realm of siloed and fragmented parts of business applications. Integration and connectivity heavily relies on integration services and expensive integration toolkits.

PLM vendors understand the importance of broader integration beyond engineering department. We can see it in the strategies and acquisition patterns. The following two examples can show you what I mean. Navigate to the following article by Engineering.com – "Demolish the silos in PLM": Why Dassault’s Bernard Charles believes in the 3D Experience is explaining the vision and strategy of Dassault. The following passage is my favorite:

The zero error BOM (Bill of Materials) demands a zero file solution. 3DEXPERIENCE brings the zero file world into the engineering environment; what we do is to connect directly to product data, not to files”. Every company has a promise to their customers and that promise is eventually realized through a value creation process that touches many different points within an organization. Now, to ensure that a brand promise is consistently and sustainably delivered it has to be managed across the entire enterprise, and we have assembled the necessary IT tools.” He adds that so far PLM has just been about helping companies to develop their products, ”But the world has moved beyond the product; the end-customers are demanding experiences around the product” and the secret of market success is to be able to innovate not only on the product, but also on the experience.

Another example came recently from PTC Live 2014 forum in Boston. The following blog post by Monica Schnitger gives you a very good outline and links to keynotes video recording. However, my attention was caught by another blog by Joe Barkai – Closed Loop PLM. Joe outlines PTC vision to connect important lifecycle tools in a single product lifecycle workflow. Here is the passage explaining that:

While the vision – and company executives acknowledged it’s still a vision rather than a product roadmap – is correct, the tools and “solutions” in PTC’s portfolio are separated by a noncontiguous business strategy (SLM and ThingWorx operate as separate business units), and by the lack of a digital backbone, shared data models, common taxonomies and unified workflows. It will be interesting to see how PTC is going to move from a strategically rich but fragmented portfolio to realizing a connected PLM architecture.

Sooner than later, PLM vendors will come with platform strategies and implementation that connecting complicated product lifecycle. Meantime, engineering, manufacturing, supply and consumer spaces are disconnected and can create some real problems. Few days ago, I stumbled on a very interesting article – Keep a sharp eye on SSD bill of materials by DIGISTOR. The article takes you to the reality of disconnected Bill of Materials between OEM manufacturers, suppliers and consumers. Read the article and draw your opinion. Here is my favorite passage

It appears that manufacturer PNY Technologies has committed the same sin, releasing SSDs with varying BoMs. A TweakTown reader contacted Ramseyer and described how the SSD that the individual purchased did not feature a BoM that matched up with one previously reviewed on the website. According to Ramseyer, that reader bought the PNY product because of his glowing assessment of its performance. Because of the shifting BoM, however, that individual’s SSD did not hit the same benchmarks. A representative from PNY admitted that the company had shipped out SSDs with disparate BoMs, qualifying the move by noting that all of its products fall within "minimum advertised performance levels." When manufacturers neglect to lock down the components within their BoMs, consumers and business users may wind up with a product that doesn’t meet their expectations.

What is my conclusion? To close product lifecycle loop from product requirements to actually physical devices with specific supplied components is a big challenge. It requires significant coordination and integration between applications and data sources. I can see the intent of PLM vendors to come with platforms and solutions. Cloud technologies will play a significant role in the way companies will try to demolish silos and synchronize data across multiple application boundaries. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Why 150% BOM will be obsolete in the future?

May 16, 2014

plm-future-150-bom

Have you heard about "150% BOM"? BOM management terminology is confusing sometimes. Ed Lopategui gave a shot to explain it in his last GrabCAD blog – 150% BOM: Buy Two, Get One Free. The following passage was my favorite:

A 150% BOM isn’t sorely in need of some fitness training or sadly overdrawn at the bank. In fact, a 150% BOM is just another name for a variant structure, or more specifically, a configurable BOM. Configurable BOMs have one or more optional components and/or modular subassemblies, which, when properly set, define a specific variation of a product. In effect, a configurable BOM is many possible BOMs loaded into just one product structure. When left unconfigured, the BOM contains more parts and subassemblies than needed, i.e. more than 100%. Hence, the term 150% BOM. So why 150% and not 110% or 117.32%? That’s just the we way we roll in BOM town.

Variant structure, configurable bill of material, modular BOM… the industry invented multiple names to cope with the complexity of communication and product development processes in manufacturing organizations. The core idea of modularization or configuration is not directly related to assembly to order process (ATO), but used widely for configurable and complex products. You can see 150% BOM, 200% BOM and similar BOM organization maintained by engineering department to facilitate creation of final products from predefined parts and sub-assemblies. The product development is actually divided into two essential steps – create your modular (150% BOM) and create a planning bill of a specific product. The last one will allow you to roll out cost and delivery time.

So, why engineers created 150% BOM concept? Do we really need that? In my view, the approach was a way for engineers to manage the complexity of product structure and product variation. You can see it for product configurations and also in bill to order (BTO) situations where complex product development is managed in a way of product technological foundation combined with features developed for specific customer. With absence of better tools, Excel spreadsheet becomes the best product configuration environment and matrix with 150% BOM is the simplest model to present that.

Ed’s blog made me think about future of "150% BOM" and matrix BOM organization. In my view, the concept will disappear in the future. In my view, the complexity of product environment is growing. In many situation, to produce 150% BOM is not feasible anymore. With the level of product complexity, mix of mechanical, electronic and software components, ability of engineers to bring them all together into one 150% BOM can be not practical and even less efficient. We will need to invent new tools to manage the complexity of configurations and product data. With growing demand for personalization, we are not far from the situation, PLM and ERP systems will have to roll out bill of materials individually configured for a specific customer (and this is not only in aerospace and defense industry).

What is my conclusion? Growing complexity of products, move to mass customization, regulatory and cost pressure, global manufacturing – this is a reality of modern manufacturing environments. We need to develop a new approach how to manage product development and manufacturing of these products. Product configurations and BOM is a centerpiece of this approach. A simple 150% BOM spreadsheet will be replaced with new BOM tools. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Why BOM Management Is Complex?

May 12, 2014

bom-complexity-manufacturing

My last post about Manufacturing BOM raised few interesting comments online and offline. One of them by Jos Voskuil was pretty straightforward – "What is a big deal about MBM"? Jos pointed me on his earlier post – Where is MBOM? This post as well as few other articles I posted earlier – Why companies are not ready for single BOM? and BOM 101: 5 Don’ts for BOM management made me think why BOM is so complex. I wanted to share these reasons and ask your opinion. Here are my top 3 list of issues that are leading to significant BOM management complexity: 1- Items/Parts identification; 2- Views; 3- Synchronizations. Let me go and explain more specifically what I mean.

1 – Item / Part Identification

Item Master. Item. Part. Assembly. Product. You name it… But whatever you call it, you come down to the way (and format) to identify Parts. Part number is probably the simplest wayto identify things in product design, manufacturing and support. The next question – what Part Number? Things are simple only on the surface. As soon as you dig inside, you find yourself surrounded by manufacturing part numbers, design parts, suppliers part numbers, support parts and many others. The information about them resides in multiple data databases, spreadsheets and systems.

2- Views (or Product Views or BOM Views)

You may think about bill of material as a list of parts and everything else you need to make a product. However, very fast it gets complicated with product configurations, manufacturing information, suppliers, As-built BOM and maintenance parts. To differentiate and manage all this information is not a simple task.

3- Synchronizations.

As I mentioned before, bill of material information (multiple BOMs) are usually managed by different systems. Often (in case of PLM) multiple BOMs are managed by PLM system itself. Now think about change processes and updates. Each one generates a sequence of updates and dependent operations that needs to be done to synchronize BOMs and keep them in a consistent status. Indeed, one of the most complex tasks in BOM management.

What is my conclusion? BOM is not simple thing as you might think from the beginning. To keep system in sync with diversity of data and processes takes time and effort. Variety of product development and manufacturing approaches, global deployment, etc. How to overcome the complexity of BOM management? Look forward to learn about BOM management complexities you are facing developing and implementing BOM management solutions.

Best, Oleg


Manufacturing BOM is the next cool thing in PLM

May 9, 2014

plm-manufacturing-bom-boom

I’ve been doing data management system for the last 20 years. The one thing you learn very fast – 3D and visualization are cool. Data is boring. So, if you want to impress somebody (journalist, analyst, your boss… whoever else) you need to create realistic representation of your future product. And show how to can turn it on the screen of your computer or better on mobile device (the reality of last 3 years). I agree, to see what you mean is cool, especially if you can make it before it will be manufactured. Awesome stuff. It can sell your product before it even exists. CAD/ PLM companies made lots of money selling visualization and rendering products. These days you almost cannot differentiate the video or photo of real car from realistic visualization.

Forget about it, for the moment… Design can be cool. However, important question these days is that – can you really make this product? If yes, than how? How fast? Or even more – can you make a profit after you design, visualize, manufacture and sell your product?

Engineering.com articleThe Next Big Boom in PLM and ERP and the Battle Over mBOM Ownership announced “war alarm” between PLM and ERP companies around manufacturing BOM (MBOM). Article speaks about how important MBOM and Master data management in solving problems such as cost, quality, tooling and many others.

I made me think again about how future of manufacturing will be dependent on solving of old PLM/ERP integration problem. In my view, complicated data synchronization is really bad thing. It leads to complex behavior, user experience and, after all, to product data errors. The question of product data errors is one the disturbs manufacturing companies. Emailing spreadsheet with bill of material won’t make your product development and manufacturing process more efficient. The following passage from engineering.com article is my favorite:

Ashley Morris, a researcher at Cardiff University in the UK, has identified seven root causes of product data errors. The three most important ones are 1/ Inaccurate data entry; 2/ Incorrect data flow between applications; 3/ Duplicate data between systems. Product development teams are all-too-familiar with how these errors occur given the various systems that manage the data. Generally cBOMs (configuration BOMs) and eBOMs (engineering BOMs) are created in the PLM systems, whereas mBOMs (manufacturing BOMs) and sBOMs (service BOMs) emanate from ERP or/and MES systems. But there’s no rule here. Several variants and combinations are “on the map”.

MBOM is tough problem. I identified 4 main reasons why MBOM is hard for PLM. Read my previous article here. In a nutshell, here are four main reasons why MBOM solution is not simple for PLM vendors and service providers:

1- Most PLM systems starts from CAD and Engineering BOM.

2- Engineering and manufacturing people live in different worlds.

3- Synchronization of BOMs is messy by default.

4- For PLM to get data about manufacturing parts is painful.

Despite all these complexities and difficulties, PLM vendors is pushing towards better integration with manufacturing. I really liked the following quote explaining the objective of Bill of Material module by Siemens PLM:

“The objective of this BOM module (TC PMM) is to provide an integrated BOM foundation spanning Engineering, Manufacturing, Prototype and Service domains.” The tight integration to design and manufacturing processes can drive virtual validation of both these process types from a BOM point of view. “With our approach the BOM is documented once and various other BOM’s like mBOM, sBOM, pBOM etc are derived from this core eBOM, without re-documentation.”

So, what it all means for PLM? Bill of Materials (BOM) was always the apple of discord between PLM and ERP. Large companies these days cannot live with PLM and ERP systems. While engineering part of product information resides in PLM system, manufacturing part is managed by ERP. Product cost and quality can often fail between chairs and this situation disturbs manufacturing companies. This is the simplest possible configuration. Sometimes, design and engineering product even more distributed (look on Airbus’ case) – design (CATIA), product configuration (Windchill), manufacturing BOM (SAP). Which brings me back to my thoughts about why companies are not ready for single BOM? Main reasons – specialized tools used by different departments, no agreement between organizations how to manage data in a consistent way, absence of ‘universal’ tools.

What is my conclusion? MBOM is going to be in focus for many manufacturing these days. Efficiency and ability of manufacturing company to execute flawlessly becomes more and more important. Manufacturing environment is highly distributed these days with lots of constraints and dependencies. To design and bring product to market in a short time is a complex task you cannot solve without tools that will help you to synchronize and connect bill of materials. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Why Excel and Multi-BOM are killing collaboration?

April 22, 2014

excel-multiple-bom

Excel and Bill of Materials. What can be better to start a discussion? One of my favorites blogging buddies and author of eng-eng blog Ed Lopategui hit the button of BOM & Excel discussion in his GrabCAD blog – It’s time to drop Excel BOM. I liked the following passage. It speaks about huge cost involved in management of changes using Excel:

There’s one fundamental constant in all of engineering: change. Aligning with the capability to change quickly and often is crucial in fighting back ever-increasing schedule pressures. Excel BOMs provide no help here. A separate Excel BOM has to be manually synchronized with each design change. It’s usually in this confusion where some of the bigger and most expensive errors tend to happen. Conflicts are common and notoriously difficult to set straight. Recognize that the information in a BOM is every bit as vital as your CAD design, and should be managed accordingly. For the very same reasons you benefit from managing CAD, so should you do the same with a BOM.

Ed’s post took me back five years to my Why do I like my PLM Excel spreadsheets? Excel is super flexible and powerful. However, it comes with cost. I summarized them here – PLM Excel spreadsheets: from odes to woes. Very recently I put a possible recipe how PLM can compete and take over Excel spreadsheets. These are important 3 ingredients – (1) flexible data model, (2) easy customization and (3) flawless user experience.

One of the topics in Ed’s blog, took me far beyond just usage of Excel to edit BOM. It was about how to manage bill of materials between engineering and manufacturing space. Here is the passage:

So far we’ve been talking about BOMs strictly from a design perspective. But the expectation that there can be only one BOM to rule them all is unrealistic. There are different ways to slice BOMs, different disciplines may have a need for their own specific view or information. How manufacturing looks at a BOM in ERP will be fundamentally quite different from how engineering looks at a BOM.

The topic of multiple BOM management isn’t so new. The truth is every enterprise system wants to manage their portion of BOM. In PLM space BOM management is often comes with the strategy of multiple BOMs or BOM views. Most of PLM systems can support multiple BOMs. The idea of separating BOMs into different slices or views is current answer to how to let every department in the organization to own their portion of BOM. Most of organizations are doing that because they didn’t find an alternative way to agree how to manage BOM. So, data is split between CAD, PDM, PLM, ERP, MRP, CRM and other domains. Read more about it in my article Why companies are not ready for single BOM? One of the biggest problems in using multiple bill of materials is related to collaboration between people in organization. Multi-BOM leads to huge data synchronization problem. The question “where is my BOM?” is usually the one that kills collaboration.

What is my conclusion? To manage BOM in Excel is a nightmare. So, to bring BOM management tools to replace Excel is a very good idea. However, most of companies are having though time to decide how to manage bill of materials among different systems and environments. In a real world companies are relying on combination of Excel, PDM/PLM and ERP to manage multiple BOMs. Unfortunately, it kills collaboration, productivity and innovation. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How to make PLM UI less terrible?

April 3, 2014

handwritten-BOM

I’m coming again to this topic – User Interface. These days you can hear about it as user experience (UX). UX is more complicated thing and includes lots of factors and aspects. So, I’d like to speak first about how UI looks. Back in time when I was developing and demonstrating PDM user interfaces, the worst thing was to get in line after somebody presenting CAD and visualization software. Their UI are always looks good. It was obvious, since they can show all these cars, phones and airplanes… Opposite to that, PDM user interface is all about tables, list and values. The nature of PDM system makes this type of UI boring and not interesting. For example, take a look on the photo above. This is handwritten BOM of locomotive made almost 100 years ago (image credit) . It doesn’t look nice, but it is absolutely "must have" document in manufacturing.

To change UX concept is a complex things. It requires to make a lot of changes in the way people performing their tasks. For engineering, manufacturing and enterprise organization is a big thing. However, what about to make a change just in a way PDM / PLM UI looks like?

The following image by darkhorseanalytics caught my attention with the presentation how to make table looks less terrible. Take a look on the power of "less is more". It comes as a sequence of remove colors, remove gridlines, remove fills, remove the border, remove bolding, left align text, right align number, align titles with data, resize columns with data, put whitespace to work, use consistent precision, round the numbers, remove repetition, no more Calibri font, add back emphasize.

So, here is the table before:

table-nice-ui-before

… and here is the table with UI improvements.

table-nice-ui-after

Not sure about you, but I like the comparison and the result.

It made me think about how many places in PDM UI is actually requires clean table presentation. Think about drawing reports, bill of materials and many other things. To make them look clean and fresh will improve to visual impression about PDM product.

What is my conclusion? It is very hard to design nice and clean UI. Every company developing software applications these days must focus on how to make the UI less terrible. The ugly and annoying enterprise software UI is a thing in the past. The new UI will be designed with the a different state of mind and thinking about modern web and mobile user interface and experience. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Bill of Materials (BOM) Management: Data, Lifecycle, Process

April 2, 2014

BOM-data-lifecycle-process

In my recent post about bill of materials – Bill of Materials (BOM): process or technology challenge? I touched the variety of topics related to BOM organization – multiple BOMs and need to manage BOM located in different systems. My main question at the post was around how to make the work with multiple BOMs easier? The problem is tough and the answer is not easy and straightforward. While I was googling the internet to find what others think about this problem, my attention caught TeamCenter PLM blog post – Bill of Material Lifecycle. This posts presents multiple BOMs as a result of changes in the product lifecycle – design, manufacturing, service. Here is a passage I captured:

It is interesting to discuss on BOM lifecycle and its evolution from conceptual stage to full fledge manufactured product to maintenance. In this blog I will explain through life cycle of BOM across the product life cycle done as in house development. The BOM lifecycle can varies based on overall process of company for example some company might only manufacture as order hence they As Build design BOM and they directly CREATE Manufacturing BOM from it.

All together, it made me think that concepts of data, lifecycle and process is often can create a confusion and overlap. I want to clarify these concepts and present how they can be combined together to manage single BOM in the organization.

1- Data

Data is the most fundamental part of Bill of Materials. It combined from data about product, assemblies, parts and relationships between them. Fundamentally, assemblies and components are connected together to form the result data set representing a product. This data set can be presented in many ways – tabular, hierarchical and many other forms (eg. graph). Data about parts leads us to the place where information about product, assemblies, components, supplies and manufacturers is managed. This information can reside into one of the following systems – CAD, PDM, PLM, ERP, SCM and others.

2- Lifecycle

Lifecycle defines the difference between bill of materials of the same product, but associated with different product development periods (stages). Here is the example of some typical stages – concept, design, manufacturing, service. However, these stages are not the same for many companies and can reflect industry, specific business practices, regulation and many other aspects. It is very important to capture relationships between Bill of Materials of the same product (assembly) in different lifecycle stages. Missing lifecycle stage connection can cause a lost of very important product lifecycle information and product development traceability. In some regulated industries such

3- Process

Process is a set of activities that defines Bill of Materials data as well as changes in a lifecycle. Sometimes process can be very informal- save of assembly and parts using design system. It will product design BOM data. However, with the complexity of product development and specific organization, some processes are including changes of data, lifecycle stages as well as people involvement. If you think about ECO process, it might change few bill of materials, lifecycle stages as well as product/part information.

What is my conclusion? The problem of bill of materials management must be separated into three distinct problems: 1/ how to create data with BOM? 2/ how to control product dev stages and differentiate the same BOM across the lifecyle; 3/ how to provide tools to manage process and people to work with data and stages. All together, the problem is complicated. However, separated into these pieces it can help you to build a strategy for your BOM management regardless on tools you are going to use. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PLM, Mass Customization and Ugly BOM vertical integration

March 19, 2014

plm-mass-customization-1

A car can be any color as long as it is black. This famous Henry Ford quote speaks about how manufacturing handled customization in the past. That was the era of mass production. The idea of limited customization options combined with high level of standardization and high volumes of batch production allowed to decrease cost and improve productivity. The concept of mass production is applied to different products in process and discrete industries – food, chemicals, fasteners, home appliances and automobiles.

However, mass production is getting less popular these days. What comes next you ask? The next trend in manufacturing is going to be "mass customization". This is the idea of total "custom output". Manufacturing is looking how to create a possibility to produce goods in smaller batches to meet customer specific requirements. Wikipedia article provides a good summary of mass customization concept together with explaining economical value.

The concept of mass customization is attributed to Stan Davis in Future Perfect[2] and was defined by Tseng & Jiao (2001, p. 685) as "producing goods and services to meet individual customer’s needs with near mass production efficiency". Kaplan & Haenlein (2006) concurred, calling it "a strategy that creates value by some form of company-customer interaction at the fabrication and assembly stage of the operations level to create customized products with production cost and monetary price similar to those of mass-produced products". Similarly, McCarthy (2004, p. 348) highlight that mass customization involves balancing operational drivers by defining it as "the capability to manufacture a relatively high volume of product options for a relatively large market (or collection of niche markets) that demands customization, without tradeoffs in cost, delivery and quality".

However, to turn manufacturing from Ford-T production mode to mass-customizable requires lots of changes in the way companies design and build products. My attention caught by McKinsey article – How technology can drive the next wave of mass customization. Read the article and draw your opinion. Author speaks about mass customization trends in manufacturing and how it potentially impact enterprise software and IT. Look on the following picture – the list of "new customizable products" looks very impressive.

plm-mass-customization-options-mckinsey

New technologies in manufacturing are going to make mass production possible – social and crowdsourcing, customer facing product configurators, 3D scanning, dynamic pricing and many others. Clearly, I can see lots of opportunities in new tech development for software and hardware companies. It also requires structural changes in product development and process organization.

You can ask me how is it related to PLM? I’ve been posting about PLM role in mass customization before. PLM becomes one of the most critical drivers in the way development and manufacturing will be organized. Now, I’d like to be more specific. In my view, it is heavily comes down to the way product information and bill of materials related processes will be managed. The ability to have customer facing configurator, with dynamic pricing, optimizing company manufacturing facilities requires significant vertical integration. Today these processes heavily disconnected and implemented in silos. This is not how things should work in 21st century. To connect custom bill of material with specific engineering option and make product delivery lead time short is an interesting process, communication, collaboration and planning challenge. I found the following passage from McKinsey article connected to that -

True scale in mass customization can only be achieved with an integrated approach where technologies complement one another across a company’s various functions to add customization value for the consumer, bring down transaction costs and lead times, and control the cost of customized production

What is my conclusion? Mass customization ends up with ugly bill of materials (BOM) integration challenge. By enabling BOM vertical integration, future PLM systems will make mass customization processes possible, shorten time from the moment customer hits company e-commerce web site and until the moment, product will be shipped. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

[categories Daily PLM Think Tank]


Who will create Google Sheets BOM (Bill Of Materials) Add-On?

March 11, 2014

bom-google-add-on

For the last few years, I’ve been chatting about the opportunity to use Google infrastructure and tools to innovate in PLM, engineering and manufacturing. Google enterprise apps influence on PDM/PLM market is still minor these days. However, I believe, Google cloud infrastructure and tools are consistently inspire established vendors and new companies to develop better solutions.

Earlier last week, I was discussing about how PLM can take over Excel spreadsheets. For long time, PLM tools have love and hate relationships with Excel. MS Office applications are very popular in every organization for collaboration. Think about SharePoint, Word, Excel. Specially Excel spreadsheet is a king tool in everything that related to BOM management. My old article “My Excel Spreadsheets: From Odes to Woes” speaks about pains related to the use of Excel for collaboration.

Online tools can solve many problems people are facing when use standalone Excel spreadsheets. Earlier today, Google informed about launching so called “add-on store” for Google Docs and Sheets. Read more here. One of the killing aspects related to Google Sheets Add-on is a transparent way to integrated application user experience within spreadsheet. Watch this video to see more.

Several applications were announced together with Google Sheets Add-on. I selected few of them that can make a lot of sense for engineering collaboration – Project Sheet (from forscale.project) and Workflows (from letterfeed.com). The following passage from TechCrunch article is my favorite:

With the help of add-ons, Google is clearly hoping to create a developer ecosystem around Docs. But maybe more importantly, these integrations will also make it more competitive in a landscape where Microsoft is now finally taking the online versions of its Office productivity suite seriously. For many desktop Office users, the ability to bring add-ons to the desktop versions of Word or Excel remains an important selling point

What is my conclusion? Eco-system or how it is now called “community” is an important element of future success. Microsoft relied on openness of Office and ability to develop add-ins very long time. In a modern world, Google Apps is a good infrastructure foundation for collaboration. It is still not clear if manufacturing companies are ready to trust Google as IT provider for their needs. I believe, a critical mass of application can be one of the factors that can influence future CIO and engineering IT managers decisions. Another obvious alternative is Office 365. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Bill of Materials (BOM): process or technology challenge?

March 3, 2014

bom-process-vs-technology

The importance of Bill of Material in product development and manufacturing hardly can be undervalued. BOM is a cornerstone of almost all processes and activities – from early requirement and design and to manufacturing, services and support. Therefore, efficient BOM management is an absolutely important element of product development processes. PLM vendors are coming with different solutions to manage BOMs. Together with vendors’ solutions, manufacturing companies are developing practices (and sometimes a complete solutions) how to manage Bill of Materials.

I’ve been discussing the idea of "single BOM" for the last few years as a possible way to simplify BOM management. My earlier post – Severn Rules towards Single BOM is almost five years back (2009) raised very interesting debates. All of them are still relevant in my view. I wanted to highlight one very insightful post by Jim Brown here. Jim speaks about different aspects and advantages of single BOM management. As part of this conversation Jim introduced a concept he called – associated BOMs. Here is the passage I specially liked:

Companies have spent a lot of time and effort making logical connections between different BOMs, and developing tools to help develop and synchronize different BOMs. For example, PLM, MPM, and Digital Manufacturing software helps companies translate an engineering BOM into a manufacturing BOM and then further into a BOP. In fact, they have gone further upstream to match conceptual BOMs and requirement structures downstream to BOMs. Maybe you would call these “workarounds” to the real answer of a single BOM. But I would propose a different view based on history and my observations. Perhaps engineers have done what we do best – addressed the problem in the most practical way as opposed to the most elegant way to solve a problem.

I think, Jim’s post is absolutely relevant today. After few years of discussions on this topic, one of my hypothesizes is that companies are not ready for single BOM solution… yet. At the same time, I do believe companies can take realistic steps into single BOM management already today. The variety of ways companies are managing bill of materials can surprise even people with lot of experience in manufacturing and PLM. After many years, I’m always surprised to find "yet another way" to manage bills, configurations and associated manufacturing and production information.

My attention was caught by Teamcenter PLM blog few weeks ago – Bill of Materials concept. Author, posted a very good summary about different types of BOMs. Together with eBOM, mBOM, sBOM and few others, it outlines the idea of Master BOM as a centerpiece of BOM Management capable to provide "single source of truth" about BOM. The following passage explains the idea:

To overcome this challenge, the concept of Master BOM has come. Master Bill of Material can be defined as single source of BOM having all aspect of information for various configuration and discipline. Hence Master BOM by definition is single source of truth for all BOM. Industry is still struggling to find the exact solution in term of defining and managing Master BOM. Also it become more complex due to the facts that different BOM types are managed in different systems. PLM vendors including Siemens PLM has come various solution and tools, but still required to show the success and maturity of managing Master BOM as a single source of truth across various BOM lifecycle and discipline.

This post and exchange of comments made me think about potential two challenges in BOM management – technology and process. The way and technology to support and implement the idea of "master BOM" is quite complicated as well as PLM implementation attempts to integrated product data under the umbrella of "single point of truth". At the same time, the idea of "master" or "single" BOM management faces multiple political challenges including discussions about internal and external company processes. In my view, modern data management technologies (especially coming from web and open source) can introduce some advantages in BOM management. It can be related to scalability of data management solutions as well as improved collaboration features. Would it be enough to overcome process challenges? This is a good question to ask these days.

What is my conclusion? After decades of development in PDM, PLM and ERP, companies are still struggling with BOM management. The topic is quite complicated and introduce many technological and process challenges for companies. Future pressure around competition, customization and cost can bring BOM management challenges back. It will be interesting to see what (technology or processes) improvement will allow to unblock future of BOM management? No specific conclusion. Just thoughts today…

Best, Oleg


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