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


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.

multiply-teams-and-BOM.png

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


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


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