How to Improve BOM Collaboration?

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.


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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  • Jovan

    Just discovered your blog, and very happy to participate to the discussion.

    1- Context:
    I know that the PLM should be the single point of truth, but more I am working with different customer, more I realize this cannot be exactly right.
    Let me explain why. A BOM is different for a designer, a system engineer, a simulation engineer, a manufacturing engineer, for each plant that will manufacture the product. I think the BOM (at least for complex product) is an outmoded notion. The idea of context is important, and probably more important than anything else. The PLM should not be the truth, but the single point of reference from which the “relative truth” can emerge (sorry that sounds very theological :)). A better BOM, or should I say product structure collaboration will then imply two things (at least)
    – A better description of the product at a higher level of abstraction
    – Better rules to define the BOM each person wants to see
    This can be started by analyzing a product not as a set of part but as a set of functions / features (I could elaborate but it is not the purpose here).

    2 – Role:
    I agree with you, but I think you don’t go far enough. You need to include the notion of security.
    The supplier may not want to show the inner design of its product. With globalization, strong security rules needs to be put in place.

    3 – The time:
    Cannot agree more. This is why PLM editors need to provide their customer real time collaboration tools.

  • I would definitely agree that the BOM is context sensitive, and this directly impacts collaboration. So many dimensions can go into a bill, including bullets 2 and 3 where time and role play a factor. A BOM’s contents vary based upon who is looking at it, and why. In the end, the engineering BOMs (electrical, mechanical, software, etc.) must merge and evolve to become the manufacturing BOM, so it can be produced (and handed off to MRP).

    In order to accomplish this, systems must have different views of the same BOM and must be able to manage effectivity and track disposition. Depending on who is looking at the BOM, they may need to see different information which can be time dependant. Examples of this would include: Redline views for contract manufacturers or operation to be able to see what has changed. Purchasing views, so people can see what needs to get purchased for upcoming product releases.

    All this complexity is why companies fail when they use Excel to manage their BOM. Problems pop up like missed launch dates, scrap/rework, and general inefficiencies. How is it possible to effectively collaborate around a BOM without a central place to define BOM context, role, and time? Collaboration is the second step after having all this information in one place.

  • These are great ideas and I take onboard all your comments. For my point of view, PLM is a platform which allows me to orchestrate how things happen both in the context of a timeline and in the context of proceedure. I think that more flexibility is availiable by keeping BOMS seperate(allows integration and openness with other systems) but allowing easily creatable links and relationships between then, then being able to create a scope or context for a specific user / role of all the data from all the BOMS. From a proceedural perspective this means that ‘packages’ of data are delivered to the right people at the right time, its all the same data everyone is looking at, just scoped out for the specific task in hand.

    Great blog .. keep up the good work!!

  • Jovan, thank you for amazing comments and view. Re context – I like your definition of “relative truth”. Discovery model with capability to define context for discovery is probably key to successful bom collaboration. search-filter-act. this is typical user cycle on most of bom operations. In order to to make it happen, description of product need to be improved compared to what we have today in most of the systems. Role and security – yes, in my view role imply security, but to highlight it is important. with regards to time I see two aspects – 1/real time; 2/history. I agree real time is important, but at the same time, ability to go back and forth with time line (also in the future timeline) is important too. Thanks again for your discussion. Come again to plmtwine!. Oleg.

  • Hi George and thanks for your definition of views. I think, it make a lot of sense. Let me ask you question with regards to views: How view definition and overall approach allows you to maintain appropriated changes of Bill of Materials in multiple views simultaneously. What is underline model to support such changes. In my view this is should be quite complex work with tree-based structures? Thanks. Oleg.

  • David, thanks for explaining your perspective on BOM. I agree with your position of flexibility. This is why, I think many people find themselves in Excel. Excel is unique in ability to deliver “package”, but to manage links and relationships in Excel (this is part of the context) is next to impossible. This is how I came to context/role/time model. Come to discuss again to plmtwine! Oleg.

  • Hi Oleg. I agree it can be complex. In my opinion, this is where customers should consider what sort of views they’ll need for their business and evaluate what PLM systems can accommodate their needs. The logic and dependencies between the views will vary based upon what the PLM tool was built to do. PLM for high tech electronics is very different from the needs of a pharmaceutical company. Great site, BTW!

  • George, Agree with you! Multiple views and dependencies between them are complex. Do you have such definitions available for user? Such as separate definitions for electronics and pharma? Is it separate per customer? user? -Thanks! Oleg

  • Hi Oleg- I was working on a presentation with our marketing team today on this exact topic. I figured your readers would be interested in a perspective on BOM views. Keep in mind Arena is focused on industries like high tech electronics, medical device, and consumer goods.

  • George, Thanks for the link. I will take a look on this. Regards, Oleg