The Social Bill of Material Tools Dream

I’m still dreaming about social Bill of Material tools for organizations. I’ve been  thinking about being able to co-develop a Bill of Materials by a group of people at the same time. Recently, I’ve seen more and more systems offering the ability to work simultaneously on content such as documents, spreadsheets, etc. An example of such tools is Zoho (Zoho Writers, Sheet, Show, Notebooks and others). I also heard that Zoho is working on a Zoho Wiki product in this area, but I haven’t had chance seen it yet.

What about imaging tools that would allow multiple engineers to work on a Bill of Materials at the same time?. They could add/review/comment, and, at the end, a  ready-to-go Bill of Materials could be created. What technologies could be used today to create such a tool? I was thinking that MS Excel services might be appropriate, because it is an accepted user experience for all customers. However, I believe that Wiki engines could also be used to create such a tool.

Maybe you already have such a tool, or plan to implement a similar one?   Please share your experience/feedback…


Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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  • Your direction is correct. People are already collaborativly creating a BOM using excel. If you look at our survey results relative to part management you will see excel is the tool used form concept to release and then PLM takes over. This makes sense since during this time the team wants flexibility. The problem with this approach is the file duplication that occurs. So an online version of theis or a version people can interact with, al la a wiki would really be cool.

  • Chris, Have you think about Excel Services? This is something that can eliminate file duplication and keep Excel user experience?

  • A table is a great way to render this data and edit thsi data, sometimes, but not always. Take for instance part information is not the same for every part in a product. Your electrical parts have different data then your mechnical parts. So a table is not a great way to deal with this.

  • You are right. Sometimes you need to preset heterogeneous information (like you said about different parts) and game of two tables or free form starts. In most cases in create complex user interface people don’t like. I’ve seen multiple ways to resolve these situations (i.e. group items in table; pop-up screens, additional forms). Take a look on the Bill of Material editing user interface in this post – On the other side whatever you are are doing in excel makes customer feel better from user experience standpoint. Have you discovered this paradox?

  • Everyone has mixed feelings about Excel. The best I’ve seen was at one of my favorite customers – one of the top automotive suppiers – with Excel E-BOM/M-BOM Tool – with bi-directional interface to PLM etc.
    Fantastic productivity tool. I like your idea of collaboration – what about google Docs ?

  • Martin, I think people have mixed feeling about Google docs. Everybody I’m talking about saying “yes, maybe”. I never seen enterprise customers have implemented Google Applications in production. I’d like to see it. Excels with Bill of Materials are very popular. I’ve seen a lot. Normally it customization in organization. – Regards,Oleg.

  • This is an interesting concept. I had some friends that were developing an enterprise-class spreadsheet. The idea was that it was a spreadsheet interface, but underlying it was enterprise-class sofware including a relational database. Multiple users could work on different parts without “locking” the whole file or needing a copy, like Excel or any other traditional file-based spreadsheet. That could be a part of the answer. Think about it as a spreadsheet front-end with a PDM data model sitting behind it that could be uploaded to PDM once it is ready to be controlled. Interesting thought.

  • Jim, Thanks about comment and welcome to Think Tank! I’ve seen multiple companies tried to do it, but never seen such tool in production deployment. As for technological side- using SharePoint Excel Services you can realize it quite easy. Regards-Oleg.

  • Pingback: What is the Engineer’s Social Formula for PLM? « Daily PLM Think Tank Blog()

  • François


    I am planning a tool to do something like that! but based on my customer’s plm solution which is matrix (sorry ENOVIA). I guess it can be done in any PLM solution, even it may exist in some plm technologies.
    The idea is to build a product structure reflecting the project organization. Usually, in a project team, each member has a limited responsibility perimeter, and a leader (product lead, product manager, configuration engineer/manager) has a global responsibility. Each member should be responsible of a sub part of the full BOM. Such organization is usually not supported by plm technologies, while those technology offer natively the base to collaborate, which is the cability to break the BOM into pieces, each piece having only one, while all pieces are linked together. That’s where excel has some limit, as it seems difficult to make changes frequently to a product structure, by different people.
    Such approach is quite obvious for airplanes, where different companies are responsible of wings or body or landing gear. Having one BOM for an airplane would seems a bit confusing, while it may provide some services (mass?). This add a new BOM nature (eng BOM, manuf BOM, and now organizational BOM). In that I agree with Jim Brown.
    I will keep you posted of the advancement. Thanks for the above references, I will take a quick glance at.

  • What we have done with several of our customers is to create what we call a functional BOM…that is that given any product there are specific functions / characteristics of that product that won’t change…as the BOM is more defined sometimes driven by early analysis, the functional BOM transforms into a E-BOM. This requires much more flexible capabilities for enterprise editing which we have done using an internal tool which provides online access and global team collaboration…managing many sparse document types besides early CAD. PDM in my opinion has not complemented this side of the product life cycle. Thoughts?

  • Kris, Thanks for your comment! If I’m getting you in the right way, you allowed (or created) some tools to generate/create EBOM based on the functional structure of your product. This functional structure is managed separately (or in addition) to CAD. If this is what you are talking about, similar functionality/requirements are known in the industries that doing system engineering, functional and logical design. I had chance to see such examples in aerospace industry (mostly). Some of this functionality is supported in CATIA and ENOVIA. Best, Oleg

  • Stunning quest there. What happened after? Take care!

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    I’m experiencing some minor security problems with my latest website
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