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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




I remember one of my birthdays back many years ago. My dad pushed me towards a bookshelf with kids encyclopedia and encourage me to study most of it for the next year. I found reference to these books on wikipedia now.  According to the information on wikipedia, it contained only ~6000-10000 pages. It was huge amount of information back that days. Also, I remember my first introduction into library of engineering codes and standards. I remember first day I had an access to Encyclopedia Britannica. The old way accessing information…

Everything changed since then. We are not looking for books when we need to get an information about anything. We “google it”… The voice recognition technologies is getting better, so since last month I can try to ask my Android wear device for information. It doesn’t work for everything, but it is getting better.

The fundamental change happened with encyclopedia business. It  became completely horizontal. Time ago a small team of people worked to create an encyclopedia that was consumed by millions of people for a long time. Now it is different – wikipedia changed the way we create knowledge and consume knowledge. The knowledge is crowdsourced by millions of people and consumed at the same time.


The way we present knowledge is also changed. Reference books with plain text pages are thing in the past. Today, knowledge represented as a intertwined linked data set with references and rich media – videos, photos, maps and even 3D reconstructed objects. Here is an interesting example of how 3D and information technology can change museum business – Smithsonian X 3d.

New technologies in the field of knowledge capturing and representation combined with new approaches in data management and 3D scanning can change the way we work with information. I’ve been reading Kalypso article – Reference Books and Libraries – So “Yesterday”, which speaks exactly about that:

Let’s face it; libraries, reference books and dictionaries are losing their luster. Exploration and learning today are more likely done through online resources like Google, online research and scholarly journals, Wikis and blogs. So what does this mean for innovation and product development research processes?

Today, three ring binders and file cabinets still clutter the offices of marketers and market researchers at Fortune 500 companies that are considered leaders in innovation. Most of these companies probably have sophisticated enterprise information systems that contain sales information, financials, product data records, inventory and even employee time‐tracking.

Surprisingly, these companies may still track their historical ideation, concept, and project information in three ring binders or manila folders stacked in closets or stored in the basements of a research facility.

Earlier this week I learned about interesting project – LODLAM (Linked Open Data in Libraries Archives and Museums). If you have few minutes free, navigate to that website and take a look. It also brought me back to the ideas of usefulness of Knowledge Graph for PLM. I found a very good capture of current status of how LODLAM approach used to develop new type of information application is the presentation from SemTechBiz 2014. Take a look on the slides here.


All together, it made me think about engineering standards and reference books. It is so old and not efficient. In many cases, engineers are relying on memories because access to the libraries, codes and information is too complicated. Like encyclopedia Britannica existing engineering references look are outdated and complicated to use.

The more I thought about that, more questions came to my mind. How to find relevant engineering codes and standards online? The diversity of engineering disciplines is very high. There are lots of specific industry oriented codes as well as country specific standards and references. How large companies are working with that? Who is curating this information for large industry leaders as well as for millions of small manufacturers and individual makers.

What is my conclusion? The way engineering standards and references are represented today is outdated. The best engineering libraries I found on the web are bunch of university libraries. The data is poorly organized and search mechanism  is far from perfect. How to organize engineering references and provide a better access to engineers. Do you think software vendors looking for that? Will future engineering information and design systems provide an access to reference information as part of design and manufacturing processes? Too many questions today :) . I have some answers, but I’m looking for some crowdinformation today. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg




Part Numbers is a fascinating topic. I’m coming back to blog about what is the best approach to manage Part Numbers. My last post about it was – Part Numbers are hard. How to think about data first? was just few weeks ago. In that article, I outlined few principles how to keep PN separate from surrounding data focusing on different aspects of parts – description, classification, configurations, suppliers, etc.

Yesterday, my attention  was caught by ThomasNet article – Are Part Numbers Too Smart for Their Own Good? The article nailed down a key issue why companies are still having difficulties with management of Part Numbers. Nothing works from scratch in engineering companies. Complexity of characteristics and history of existing Part Numbers and products are making real difficulties to adopt new PN management concepts. The following passage explains the problem:

Another problem with descriptive numbering is that the description can become out of date and irrelevant over time. Individual parts can have their own life cycles; if a part has been identified according to the product, what happens if that product is discontinued but the part continues to be used in a newer product? Or what if a manufacturer changes vendors and the part number contains the name of the vendor that originally provided the piece?

Gilhooley admits that some Ultra Consultants clients have decided that switching from descriptive to auto-generated numbering would require too much organizational change. Some companies stick with old systems, and some opt for hybrid systems that perhaps retain descriptive numbers for existing parts but use auto-generated numbers for new parts.

It looks like there is no single solution or best practice to solve the problem. The “traditional” engineering approach to keep options to manage a diverse set company configuration looks like the only possible way to solve this problem in existing PLM/ERP systems.

What is my conclusion? History keeps customers from moving forward. There are two aspects of complexity in Part Numbers: 1/ complexity of definition and data classification; 2/ historical records of PN in every company including catalogs and existing products. Together, they create a block to make any changes in existing PN schema and prevent companies from migration towards new approaches. New data modeling technologies must be invented to handle existing data as well as supporting customers to migrate into modern PLM and ERP solutions. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg



Will public clouds help enterprises to crunch engineering data?

August 6, 2014

The scale and complexity of the data is growing tremendously these days. If you go back 20 years, the challenge for PDM / PLM companies was how to manage revisions CAD files. Now we have much more data coming into engineering department. Data about simulations and analysis, information about supply chain, online catalog parts and […]

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PLM, ERP and the death of over the wall engineering

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Do you remember “throw over the wall of manufacturing” statement? This is a traditional engineering world. Pretty much sequential. Engineers are doing their job and throw it over the wall to the next stage. Traditional manufacturing was driven by sales forecast. This is was the world that formed a traditional domains of PDM/PLM and ERP. […]

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Why cloud engineering collaboration tools are slow to ramp up

July 15, 2014

Few weeks ago I attended Boston Tech Jam and learn new buzzword – YAPSA. Which stands for Yet Another Photo Sharing Application. The amount of cloud files and data sharing applications is skyrocketing these days. It inspired many developers to re-think how to share and collaborate with engineering data.  Cloud technologies made people to bring back […]

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PLM and 25 years of Internet

March 13, 2014

It has been 25 years of Internet anniversary yesterday. Lots of article covering this event were flown around earlier this week. The Independent article – 25 years of the World Wide Web: Tim Berners-Lee explains how it all began covers the story together with world wide web inventor Tim Berners-Lee. Even we all know about how […]

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PLM, Social and Fake Incentives

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Social hype is over. Period. I hope, I’ve got a social attention now . Despite that conclusion, social topic keeps me busy on the blog. A year ago I posted How to prevent social PLM from marketing fluff. My observation in that post came from watching multiple “Facebook clones” everywhere.  Few weeks ago I posted […]

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GrabCAD and Open Engineering Source: Dream or Reality?

September 8, 2013

Everybody knows about open source software (OSS). The model of OSS skyrocketed for the last decade and made lots projects on the web very successful. The evolution of open source wasn’t simple. It evolved from just making software source code available to quite complicated system of open software licensing. Open source inspired lots of new initiatives. One […]

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PDM 101: Engineering Document Management Fallacy

August 30, 2013

We love new technologies and trends. However, from time to time, I want to get back to basic topics of engineering and manufacturing software. The topic I’d like to discuss today is Engineering Document Management (EDM). This post was triggered by DM vs. EDM article by Scott Cleveland on 2PLM letter. Here is the passage Scott […]

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