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

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


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


Share This Post

  • Stan Przybylinski

    Hi Oleg,

    As usual in PLM, I am not sure it is technology per se that is the limiting factor. It could be the PARTICULAR technology or technologies in use, but I am confident that a technological solution could be found to manage and display the data structure. The bigger problem is the different functional and organization views of that data, and that they are developed and managed by different groups. Getting an enterprise anything requires enterprise-wide collaboration.


  • beyondplm

    Stan, thanks for this clarification. I agree completely with you. Enterprise (anything) requires enterprise-wide collaboration. In case of BOM, the problem is that enterprise cannot agree on a single BOM – every organization (function) is looking how to keep their OWN bill of material. Then, everybody stuck in endless synchronization. So, we can say, sync is bad (techno?) or organizational view on data is bad (processes?) or both? -Oleg