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Bill of Materials

data-links article by Verdi Ogewell earlier today is introducing a next step of PLM vs. ERP battle for ownership of manufacturing BOM. Navigate to the following link to read a very provoking interview with Siemens PLM CEO Chuck Grinstaff who says – “PLM should take over ownership of the manufacturing BOM too“.

I’ve been writing about the complexity of manufacturing BOM before. You can refresh your memories with the following two articles I wrote earlier this year: Manufacturing future will dependent on solving old PLM-ERP integration problems and Manufacturing BOM is the next cool thing in PLM.

BOM topic is fascinating and incredibly important for PLM companies. It boils down to the ability of PLM to control the complexity of variety of product definitions. The complexity of modern manufacturing environment is skyrocketing. Think about a combination of multiple disciplines involved into the process of design, engineering, manufacturing and support. Mechanical, electronic and software components are tightly integrated to produce modern airplanes, cars and other highly sophisticated products. However, to solve design complexity is just a beginning of the road. The next huge problem is to solve manufacturing problems. It all comes to manufacturing planning, procurement and shopfloor control. After, eventually, you end up with the result, which is represented by “as built” product data, support and maintenance systems.

To demonstrate complexity of BOM transformation I created a diagram below. What you can see below is different views of product data. It usually represented as a different views of Bill of Materials.


The following quote from article is one of my favorite to describe the importance of product data modeling. According to Chuck Grinstaff of Siemens PLM:

How important is the BOM issue among businesses? ”Incredibly important”, claims Chuck Grindstaff, and it’s not just a matter of semantics, ”The real issue around the Bill of Materials, whether for engineering, for manufacturing, for test or for procurement, is that each of these views of the product are important to the consumer of the BOM. Every view of the ‘bill’ needs to reconcile to other views and must remain accurate within the context of the total product during each stage of development. We believe that each of these viewpoints needs to be configurable from a common definition; from a single source of truth into the context for each of the engineers. For that reason it’s important to get it right. You can call it ”a battle”, yes, but the point still is that a PLM system is the best environment to manage this complexity.”

PLM vendors arguing towards full control of all aspects of BOM by PLM platforms and tools. The main battle is with ERP systems. Historically and traditionally, ERP companies are controlling part of product data starting from manufacturing planning and going future towards procurement and as built representations. It created well-known status of engineering vs. manufacturing balance. However, future demands of deep manufacturing integration brings PLM vendors to think that to take over MBOM (or more specific, manufacturing planning BOM) will deliver better solution for product complexity management.

The desired status for PLM vendors is to push ERP down towards procurement only and manage manufacturing BOM as part of PLM database. Here is another passage from article quoting Peter Billelo of CIMdata explaining why it can be reasonable from PLM vendors’ standpoint:

”ERP solutions generally do not actually optimize or have development tools for defining what the manufacturing BOM is. They just focus on executing a defined Bill of Material. So if I look at what Siemens is doing they are based on developing what that mBOM should be and optimizing that BOM. Quite frankly I don’t see any of the ERP vendors spending much time, if any time, at all at actually doing that. That said it makes sense for Chuck to claim the ownership since they have the tools to make changes, analyze and optimize the BOM.” article made me think again about complexity of data management and integration in product development. It is certainly complex thing to manage multiple aspects of product data – design, engineering and manufacturing. To ensure data accuracy, both PLM and ERP systems must be well synchronized, which requires multiple very complex data transformation. The “sync” is king of the road on the PLM-ERP highway connecting engineering and manufacturing organizations.

Current enterprise data management paradigm is based on the RDBMS architecture that fundamentally provides a storage for all aspects of product data. TeamCenter is probably one of the best systems to support the complexity of product data representation. By moving manufacturing planning BOM to TeamCenter (or other PLM system), PLM vendors can decrease complexity of data synchronization between two complex views – engineering and manufacturing planning. ERP system role in this situation will be limited to procurement function and management of master production schedule.

However, Siemens PLM is not alone in their desire to take control of complete product structure management and all aspects of BOM. My earlier article – PLM and Zero BOM errors speaks about how Dassault Systems ENOVIA strategy to simplify the complexity of BOM synchronizations between design and engineering environment. This is a bit different aspect, but still represents the desire of PLM companies to solve BOM synchronization problem.

What is my conclusion? The problem of data synchronization between different BOM representations is a real one. The level of complexity is huge. PLM companies are trying to leverage their sophisticated data platform to control the overall product data complexity. The fight is two fold – technical and political. The heart of every CIO is usually with ERP system. PLM companies need to think how to deliver technologies to solve the level of integration complexity. In my view, this is a key to win MBOM battle. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

photo credit: elcovs via photopin cc



Multiple dimensions of BOM complexity

by Oleg on October 15, 2014 · 9 comments


Bill of Material topic is getting more attention these days. No surprise. BOM is a center of universe in manufacturing (and not only) world. People can disagree about terminology applied to BOM management. Depends on a specific domain people can call it part list, specification, formula. But at the same time, everybody speak about the same BOM. Actually, not always the same BOM. I guess you’ve heard about variation of Bill of Materials – eBOM, mBOM, xBOM, etc. The amount of abbreviations in BOM is growing and often can cause confusion. So, I decided to put some lights on that in my post today.

The importance of BOM management is growing as well as tension around who owns bill of material. Historically, people in different departments disagree about the way they manage bill of materials. As a result of that, departments are splitting and cloning bill of materials to get control and  managing it in different systems. It leads to the need to synchronize and copy BOMs together with changes. The tension around BOM management is growing. Last year, I posted some of my thoughts in the post – Will PLM manage enterprise BOM? The main point in this article was around complexity of BOM management and integration between different systems and disciplines.

It looks like BOM will become the next place some of PLM vendors are going to innovate… and battle. My attention was caught by provocative ENGINEERING.COM article – The Power of Zero – Dassault’s ENOVIA chief talks about the ”Zero Error BOM”. Read the article and draw your opinion. I captured the following passage:

The “war” has generally been about linking product development with shop floor IT and the BOM certainly plays a key role in this. Right now there are four primary participants on the battlefield: Siemens, SAP, GE/PTC and IBM.

Article is emphasizing the complexity of “universal BOM” solution and potential advantages of winning BOM battle:

It’s not a simple job to manage a BOM. What might appear as ”a list of parts needed to build a product” is today a complex reality of multiple levels, diversified disciplines and BOMs contains information about structures, electronics, integrated software, manufacturing methodology and the way products are maintained and even disposed of. There are many sources of error and mistakes can be very costly.

If Dassault’s “zero error BOM” can become a reality, it’s a huge step forward and would, according to analyst Marc Halpern of Gartner, ”have the potential to realize the ’dream’ of the universal BOM”. But as Kalambi says: ”This is about to embark on a journey; once on ’the road’ the benefits of 3DEXPERIENCE and V6 will increase productivity dramatically”.

I found myself thinking quite a bit about complexity of BOM today and, as a result, came to the following diagram showing 3 main dimensions of BOM complexity: Disciplines, Lifecycle, Changes.


1- Multiple disciplines. The complexity of product is growing these days. Even for very simple products it goes beyond just mechanical and electromechanical design. It includes electronic, software and goes to services and deliveries. Engineers are using multiple tools to create design of products in each discipline. To combine everything together is a very challenging task.

2- Lifecycle. Design represents only one phase of product development. It must be manufactured, shipped, supported and (after all) re-furbished or destroyed. All these processes are going in parallel and requires sophisticated interplay in data and activities. How to connect requirements with design, plan and optimize manufacturing and run support services? This is only a short list of tasks that requires BOM orchestration.

3- Changes (ECO/ECN…). Nothing is static in this world. People are making mistakes. Communication failures happen. Suppliers are going out of business. All these events generate changes that must be applied into different stages of product development – design, manufacturing, services.

What is my conclusion? Bill of Material management reflects one of the most complex disciplines in product development and manufacturing these days. The time when companies managed BOM on the shop floor corkboards are gone. Future BOM management systems will have to be much more sophisticated, integrated and to support multiple dimensions of BOM complexity. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

[update 16-Oct-2014]. The BOM complexity diagram was updated following comments about ECR-ECO-ECN



MBOM collaboration and cost of change

by Oleg on October 9, 2014 · 2 comments


The only thing that is constant is change. This is very much applies to everything we do around BOM. Engineering and manufacturing eco-system are full of jokes about engineering changes. You maybe heard about renaming “engineering change order” into “engineering mistake order” as well as the correlation between number of engineers and number of ECOs in a company. However, the reality – change orders are one of the central elements of engineering and manufacturing life. And it is primarily related to bill of materials. Once defined, we keep changing BOMs through the lifecycle of the product. ECOs are helping us to do so.

In my yesterday post (Manufacturing BOM dilemma), I discussed the complexity of manufacturing BOM. Fundamentally, MBOM is reflecting manufacturing process, which is by itself defined by both – product information coming from engineering department and by part and other related information coming from manufacturing systems (MRP / ERP). The collaboration between these two systems is never easy. This is one of the reasons why MBOM management process is struggle to find the right place in many companies.

One of the suggestions made in comments was to use PLM system as BOM manager and run ECO/ECR processes each time we need to make a change in bill of material. Such process will insure ERP will be always updated with the last information about BOM. My initial thinking – this is very straightforward way to manage it and I’ve seen it in many companies. On second thought, maybe there is a better way to manage that.

As I mentioned before, changes to the bill of material are a controversial topic. My hunch every company should have a policy how to manage BOM changes. From my experience I can classify three major type of changes to bill of materials: 1/mistakes; 2/materials and/or parts changes; 3/arbitrary changes (liabilities, etc.). In many situations, BOM changes can lead to significant cost related to material scrap, additional material planning, etc. On the other side, every change related to materials, process optimization and manufacturability should be synchronized back into PLM system. So, maybe, ECO/ECR is not a right way for engineering/manufacturing collaboration these days?

The life was good when engineers were able to through BOM over the wall of manufacturing department and finish their job. This is not a reality we live in today. Engineering and manufacturing should maintain a very close relationships by developing and optimizing manufacturing processes. Sometimes, the solution is purely manufacturing. However, very often, redesign or additional level of product engineering optimization required to reduce product cost or bring product to market faster. Maybe it is a time for both engineering and manufacturing department to develop new practices how to collaborate on BOM? Abandoning old fashion ECR/ECO processes for engineering/manufacturing collaboration can be a first step into this change.

What is my conclusion? Engineering and manufacturing process planning are tightly coupled these days. In many situations both product development and engineering planning must go in parallel to achieve desired level of optimization. It requires new type of processes and software enabling new level of BOM collaboration. Old fashion ECR/ECO method may not work. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg



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August 18, 2014

Time is running fast. It has been two years since I posted GrabCAD: from Facebook for engineers to PLM. If you are in the engineering community, the chances you will come to PLM are very high. Like in the past all roads lead to Rome, I guess all future development roads for PDM solution lead […]

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Drawing Callouts and Future Google PLM Design

June 27, 2014

For me, Google is one of the symbols of simple software design. Therefore, Google developers event is always a good place to get inspired with ideas and new technologies. Google I/O was this week in San Francisco. I had now chance to attend the event, but was able to watch video streaming of keynote and […]

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PLM, demolished silos and closed BOM loop

June 24, 2014

Product development and manufacturing is getting more complex every day. The complexity comes from both direction – product definition complexity and globalization in manufacturing, supply and customer experience. As we move towards future cloud software, the importance of data platforms is growing even more. For the last 15-20 years, we are living in a realm of […]

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Why BOM Management Is Complex?

May 12, 2014

My last post about Manufacturing BOM raised few interesting comments online and offline. One of them by Jos Voskuil  was pretty straightforward – “What is a big deal about MBM”? Jos pointed me on his earlier post – Where is MBOM? This post as well as few other articles I posted earlier - Why companies are not ready […]

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Why Excel and Multi-BOM are killing collaboration?

April 22, 2014

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 […]

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Bill of Materials (BOM) Management: Data, Lifecycle, Process

April 2, 2014

In my recent post about bill of materials – Bill of Materials (BOM): process or technology challenge? I touched the variety of topics related to BOM organization – multiple BOMs and need to manage BOM located in different systems. My main question at the post was around how to make the work with multiple BOMs easier? […]

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Who will create Google Sheets BOM (Bill Of Materials) Add-On?

March 11, 2014

For the last few years, I’ve been chatting about the opportunity to use Google infrastructure and tools to innovate in PLM, engineering and manufacturing.  Google enterprise apps influence on PDM/PLM market is still minor these days. However, I believe, Google cloud infrastructure and tools are consistently inspire established vendors and new companies to develop better […]

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