I want to talk about Bill of Material and integration today. The reason why I’m coming to this topic is largely because I have a feeling “integration” will play a significant role in the future of product lifecycle management and enterprise systems in general. Two days ago, I’ve been writing about two approaches “unification” and “integration” in PLM. One of the main reasons why, I think, CAD/PLM companies decided to focus on “unification” is a struggle with integration. Time ago it started from integration between CAD and PDM. Since then, multiple other topics were added to the story of integration between multiple systems. So, one of the objectives companies put in front of them investing into unification was to simplify deployment of integrated systems.
BOM and Integrations
What I learned from multiple integration projects I’ve been involved for the last 10 years? Bill of Materials is the central piece of every integration story. The majority of integration topics are around how to handle BOM during all scenarios. The processes and implementation practices related to Bill of Materials are impacting in a significant way how a company will operate multiple systems (CAD, PDM, PLM, ERP).
Interesting enough, Bill of Material is also a centerpiece of all battles around how manage product data in various forms in multiple systems. It comes in a form of BOM synchronization between systems, definition of multiple BOM views, Product representations and many others. After thinking about possible integration scenarios, I’d like to come with three main challenges that exist in most of the integration projects (in most of the cases regardless on what systems are involved) – BOM Transfer, Item Data Synchronization and Single Bill of Material representation.
Challenge 1: BOM Transfer
This is a very complicated topic. Bill of Materials are everywhere. Drawings, CAD Systems, Engineering databases, ERP and Manufacturing systems. Even sales configurations requires a certain representation of BOM. The top waste, people want to eliminate is a need to entering information manually from one system to another system. Therefore, to automate the transfer is No.1 priority for many integration projects. However, it requires mapping of data and a lot of “hand-wiring”.
Challenge 2: How to keep Item Data in Sync
Item information (or how ERP-related people saying Item Master) is a second important topic for the integration. In most of the companies, it is originated and maintained by ERP/MRP systems. However, when company is moving more towards cross-functional processes, the need to have item master information replicated and, sometime originated outside of ERP system, is growing.
Challenge 3: Where is my single BOM?
This is of the most challenging topic. Lots of companies are spending tons of time trying to decide how to maintain different flavors of BOMs in multiple systems, how to synchronize it and how to define what is the “ultimate single BOM”. Some of the companies are taking a different approach and starting to manage so called “multiple BOM”. Time ago, I spent some time discussing these topics. Read the following two blog post I published before: Is it a time for synchronized BOM? and Non-linear BOM perspective. Companies are spending lots of resources trying to find what is the right BOM management strategy. Lots of tools (including customized tools) are focusing on how to maintain bill of materials handling across multiple representations (aka systems).
What is my conclusion? BOM is a centerpiece of everything. You may lose control of 3D drawings’ versions and do everything in 2D. You can maintain change tracking manually. You may decide not to manage requirements. However, in my view, you cannot lose the control of items and bill of materials. As the number of systems involved into this process is growing, the complexity of keeping BOM under control becomes and more complicated. Many companies are avoiding management of Bill of Materials in multiple systems just because of this reason. As, one of my readers mentioned earlier this week – “you rarely can satisfy all your needs with a single system“. So, I’m expecting more “integration challenges” in coming years from implementing CAD, PDM, PLM, ERP in various flavors and combinations. Just my thoughts…
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.