Why Excel and Multi-BOM are killing collaboration?

Why Excel and Multi-BOM are killing collaboration?


Excel and Bill of Materials. What can be better to start a discussion? One of my favorites blogging buddies and author of eng-eng blog Ed Lopategui hit the button of BOM & Excel discussion in his GrabCAD blog – It’s time to drop Excel BOM. I liked the following passage. It speaks about huge cost involved in management of changes using Excel:

There’s one fundamental constant in all of engineering: change. Aligning with the capability to change quickly and often is crucial in fighting back ever-increasing schedule pressures. Excel BOMs provide no help here. A separate Excel BOM has to be manually synchronized with each design change. It’s usually in this confusion where some of the bigger and most expensive errors tend to happen. Conflicts are common and notoriously difficult to set straight. Recognize that the information in a BOM is every bit as vital as your CAD design, and should be managed accordingly. For the very same reasons you benefit from managing CAD, so should you do the same with a BOM.

Ed’s post took me back five years to my Why do I like my PLM Excel spreadsheets?  Excel is super flexible and powerful. However, it comes with cost. I summarized them here – PLM Excel spreadsheets: from odes to woes. Very recently I put a possible recipe how PLM can compete and take over Excel spreadsheets. These are important 3 ingredients – (1) flexible data model, (2) easy customization and (3) flawless user experience.

One of the topics in Ed’s blog, took me far beyond just usage of Excel to edit BOM. It was about how to manage bill of materials between engineering and manufacturing space. Here is the passage:

So far we’ve been talking about BOMs strictly from a design perspective. But the expectation that there can be only one BOM to rule them all is unrealistic. There are different ways to slice BOMs, different disciplines may have a need for their own specific view or information. How manufacturing looks at a BOM in ERP will be fundamentally quite different from how engineering looks at a BOM.

The topic of multiple BOM management isn’t so new. The truth is every enterprise system wants to manage their portion of BOM. In PLM space BOM management is often comes with the strategy of multiple BOMs or BOM views. Most of PLM systems can support multiple BOMs. The idea of separating BOMs into different slices or views is current answer to how to let every department in the organization to own their portion of BOM.  Most of organizations are doing that because they didn’t find an alternative way to agree how to manage BOM. So, data is split between CAD, PDM, PLM, ERP, MRP, CRM and other domains. Read more about it in my article Why companies are not ready for single BOM? One of the biggest problems in using multiple bill of materials is related to collaboration between people in organization. Multi-BOM leads to huge data synchronization problem. The question “where is my BOM?” is usually the one that kills collaboration.

What is my conclusion? To manage BOM in Excel is a nightmare. So, to bring BOM management tools to replace Excel is a very good idea. However, most of companies are having though time to decide how to manage bill of materials among different systems and environments. In a real world companies are relying on combination of Excel, PDM/PLM and ERP to manage multiple BOMs. Unfortunately, it kills collaboration, productivity and innovation. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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  • Håkan Kårdén

    Dear Oleg,
    Excell is there for the good reasons you mention – it’s a tool for everyone and easy to start with. Several of our Share-A-space projects are about to replace Excel collaboration that simply does not work – they have grown out of control and very importantly they are not secure. Still, collaboration partners that are not PLM mature should be able to continue using Excel as input to the BOM collaboration. This is the case between a Automotive OEM in Europe and their partner in China – partner keeps on using Excel but OEM gets data into Share-A-space instead of struggling with sorting out the Excel file.
    I would like to promote the use of standard BOMs and not flexible data models (as you know I would). With recent harmonization of STEP AP242 and STEP AP 239 (PLCS) we can cover the complete life cycle of a product supporting multiple views and roles. This is great progress and will even link into LOTAR for long term archiving. So let’s go for standard models and start real collaboration also across enterprise borders.
    And use best possible authoring tools (sometimes Excel) to keep users happy and innovative.
    My take,
    Håkan, Eurostep

  • Marco Egli

    To manage BOM in Excel is a nightmare. But Multi-BOM could make collaboration easier if collaborators take care of some tranformation rules. And it is essential that excellent tools for comparing and merging BOM are provided. At least did distributed version control systems (like Git) in software development make the collaboration easier. So I think, that providing excellent tools for Multi-BOM management could take PDM to a next level.

  • beyondplm

    Marco, thanks for you sharing your insight! You’re right! Excel is bad, but sometimes a replacement is even worse. So, to have good BOM is an opportunity :).

  • beyondplm

    Håkan, Thanks for your comments, insight and strong opinion towards STEP APs. I think, it brings a value. I like the idea of merging Excel and PLM tools. This is certainly something that works these days.