When BOM seeks the right enterprise nanny…

Yes, I have come to the conclusion that the Bill of Materials (BOM) child is quite alone… probably because the BOM children were very popular and everybody wanted to take care of them . Just take a look at our closest environment . We do have a Bill of Materials in CAD/design, Engineering, Manufacturing, Support and Maintenance…. As I mentioned in my previous post, Search for the right BOM – I’m feeling lucky?, finding the right Bill of Materials in an enterprise environment is not simple.

So, the question I wanted to ask is how can we improve Bill of Materials, which fundamentally represents everything in Product Lifecycle Management – from the early requirements and design until production and disposal. My initial idea was about a synchronized BOM (Is it time for a synchronized Bill of Materials?). The biggest challenge I found is actually Bill of Materials separated by multiple systems in the organization. I’m sure you are very familiar with this problem. Bill of Materials have many flavors where each system tries to manage its own flavor of Bill of Materials. As a result, we have NO Bill of Materials.

I have seen a few trends in Bill of Materials management as of today:

1. Master trend. This is probably the oldest one. The idea is quite straightforward and based on trying to build master-relationships for the Bill of Materials. So far, when you have a master, you supposed don’t have a problem with multiple BOMs. But, to define such “master behavior” is difficult, and the process of master definition spans across time, products and technologies within the organization. It may work, in my view, in quite a synchronized and centralized environment. But if you take a more detailed look, you will find “another small BOM” somewhere around :)….

2. Multi-BOM trend. This one is quite established. As we said, there are many Bill of Materials – here we have an answer. We can manage many BOMs! With all the technologies we have today, we can manage as many as we want. Where is Catch 22? The governance model for Bill of Materials in this case becomes very problematic. Now we have too many BOMs and they are trying to state their single point of truth about what is going on with a product. Multiple tools around this problem can help you to compare, change, and even find inconsistencies, but the overall system becomes quite unstable, in my opinion…

3. Process trend. This is a new one, I discovered. We don’t manage Bill of Materials anymore. We do manage processes for organizations. Design, Engineering, Manufacturing. This sounds very reasonable. Process can formalize our activity around data and provide a reliable way to manage our ancient data life on a different level. So, in other words, – BOM is stupid and the process is smart. So far so good… Process management is a big scope. To implement it for an organization is not a simple task at all…. I’m just afraid, this is too much for “my small BOM child” :)…

So, what is my conclusion? I think we are still an the age where we need to find better technologies for managing Bill of Material(s). Do you know of any alternatives? I’m looking how to resolve the BOM problem within an organization and beyond…


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.


Share This Post

  • Hey Oleg, I believe we need to think about what a BOM is used for – what it accomplishes. It has historically helped a 2D world build parts/assys, order stuff and (try to) organize the structure of assemblies.

    We still need that data to accomplish the same or similar tasks, but more and more that data is in the files already.

    I suppose it’s comfy to look at a master parts list and feel a sense of completeness. but as many spreadsheets and databases I see that contain a ‘complete’ set of data, there’s always something missing.

    The data is in the files, but still, for every cad/eng/manf program available, there needs to be a centralized format for accessing it. It may take some time, but with people formulating ideas about mash-ups, single-point authentication and open markup languages we could see some interesting ideas take shape soon.

  • Josh, good view! I like it… so, you do believe that technologies will do some magic with all BOMs you have everywhere? With this magic (I called it “synchronized BOM” in one of previous blogs) it will be accessible for all participants. -Oleg.

  • First I think it is very clear what is the true owner of the BOM… ERP! This brings me to my second point and something I think you missed. Do all BOM’s need to be managed and synced? In many cases a BOM is nothing more then a convienent way to keep things organized, like file folders. In these cases the BOM or Parts List is used only be a selective group. I would also ask do I need my BOM synced or do I need to know about the changes and relations to items on my BOM?

  • Chris, I agree- ERP is the most well established owner of BOM compared to “other” pretenders. Question of sync is tricky one in my view. There is difference between what you have (BOM) and what you see (i.e. Part list in Drawing). The way Part List will be created is “how” question. Synchronization (or may be I need to use different word) of BOM means in my view “the single point of truth” about all happens with your BOMs/Products”. . And ways to achieve it may be different. -Oleg.

  • Alec Gil

    Hi Oleg, Excellent discussion to which I would like to add a few somewhat random thoughts. First of all, BOM is not “owned” by any particular system. If anything, it is owned by the organization just as it owns any other enterprise IP. ERP just happens to be one of the users of BOM, albeit often the principal user. Next, I believe there is only one product Bill, whether you call it “Master” or anything else. The other “multi – Bills” are basically nods to the fact that they indeed exist in different systems, and what you are refering to as “synchronization” has not been worked out to the satisfaction of respective users of these systems. The real trick is to work out the balance between the process, management of the single (true) BOM and ability to present its relevant abstractions to the users in different organizational roles. None of this is easy to do, but with enough organizational fortitude and a good vision, it may just be possible…

  • Alec, Well, Basically you are saying – I want to have all “master”, “multi-bom” and process capabilities in one box and establish tricky balance between all BOM nods in all systems :):). This is what I called synchronization. But I don’t see how it happens in organization. Most of them are most likely follows different flavors of “master” approach looking on principals users like ERP. How do you see situation can be improved? -Thanks,Oleg.

  • Why not let the people organize how they each want and remove the notion of a cetral one BOM fits all? If a Part knew I had a relationship or interest in it and it could tell me what happened to it, just like people do, wouldn’t this be effective? We listen to twets because someone might tell us something we care about… http://blog.vuuch.com/?p=326.

  • Chris, This is certainly make sense. The notion “synchronized” doesn’t mean automatically “one”. Like you have context of drawing in your Vuuch discussion server, you just added one additional contextual parameter into Bill Of Materials- person. In today’s PLM software it often called “role-based” access, but person is generalized to the level of Role. -Oleg.

  • solidsmack

    I like the route Chris is going. ‘speaking parts’ instead of a a list telling me what quantities are needed, what material is used, how much it weighs, etc. the part can tell the person or ‘system’

    I just think a lot of production people have trouble getting around the paper trail and comfort of a list. I admit myself it’s nice to see a color coded list of what is released and in work.

    besides all of this, my dream… only having to enter data ONCE. 🙂

  • Josh, I like your dream to enter things ONCE :)… I just want to comment, that I want to have relevant people to put relevant things ONCE. Actually, this is where I seen big value in product lifecycle management. They main question why it doesn’t work in many cases? -Oleg

  • François

    Oleg, good question, why it doesn’t work? May be because people like to live into silos (http://plmtwine.com/2009/04/30/how-can-you-prevent-plm-20-silos/)! They trust their data and not the data created by others. They prefer arrange their data as they need, and not simply use a structure which they feel is not convenient for themselves.
    Let’s assume there is a central organization in the company, in charge of maintaining the unique “BOM” (A job for life!). Those people need to have a strong rigor maintaining the rules in order to ensure that all users of the master keep satisfied with that. But they need to be aware of any rule change in all downstream departments. Reaching that situation means that all downstream department processes are known and quite do not change. A frozen company! Are we there?

    Is collaboration a dream from Marketing and (top level) management?

  • François, There is big value in data synchronization. People likes silos, since they feel data is available in the way they created it. But it doesn’t mean data need to be siloed… So, process of data/BOM synchronization need to take care of this data. This is related to http://plmtwine.com/2009/04/02/is-it-time-for-a-synchronized-bill-of-materials/. -Oleg.

  • Pingback: To PLM or Not to PLM – measuring the development phase « Jos Voskuil’s Weblog()

  • Pingback: How we can socialize PLM Bill of Materials? « Daily PLM Think Tank Blog()

  • Peter Truitt

    As a designer, I never want to tell production how to build something, if at all possible because they will always be at my door since they are/should be improving their processes. Let them have any BoM structure they want. I just want ‘design parts’ to be included in the BoM somewhere. My assembly drawing will simply show how each part relates to the rest. One company might call the shipping carton a ‘design part’ and the next company might not. If the company’s definition of ‘design parts’ must include the carton, I will show the assembly sitting in it. I can leave the BoM off the drawing if I can put the assembly document number and the ‘balloon’ or ‘find’ number next to the part number where it occurs in the BoM. I might need to be able to list a part on the BoM more than once if there is more than one assembly drawing related to the BoM. I could put part numbers on assembly drawings instead of ‘balloon’ numbers, but then if a part number change, I will be required to change the assembly drawing when it might be avoided. Dave Garwood and Frank Watts are good authors speaking to these issues.

  • Peter, Thanks a lot for your thoughts! I see your point related to the traceability and connectivity of different pieces of Bill of Materials and assembly drawing. Probably traceability of Bill of material related information is even more important compared to data ownership and specific Bill of Materials views you can manage. Regards, Oleg. PS. Thanks for referencing authors/books. will take a look on them.

  • Peter Truitt

    When I said “My assembly drawing will simply show how each part relates to the rest”, I left out the following: How might the top-level assemblies relate to each other, if my company makes salable items that a customer might mix and match to get what they want? If I have a formal ‘Design Product Specification’ document for each salable assembly that spells out, in the queen’s english, who the approved mates are, I can leave the sales staff and the customers free to use configurators, or sales numbers I ignore, or purchase orders. (I set the rules in the “Design Product Specifications” and then get out of the way.) It might be good/necessary to reference ‘Interface Drawings’ to supplement the queen’s english. This approach gets me out of BoM meetings so I can design the next mate and it gives the sales folks the greatest opportunity to be creative.

  • Peter, I think this is great approach. It will make things “related”, but at the same time “independent”. This is what you are saying, by “This approach gets me out of BoM meetings so I can design the next mate and it gives the sales folks the greatest opportunity to be creative”. But, this relationships should be “smart” enough to evolve within time when you will come to design and sell new modification of the same product. Probably “sales” system need to have “smart” connection to ERP and you BoM system (whatever you will use for this). -Thanks, Oleg.

  • Josh you are right, there are too many single and complete versions of truth. Over the last 40 years or so the software guys have tried to be this single version grabing what they can and locking it down. Well we know this has not worked by the amount of Excel files floating around. The centralized approach is good only for the software provider and heads of goverment.

    The truth is real decentralized. Imagine a BOM mashup… Imagine of your product data tools supported a decentralized mashable approach. WOW this would certainly map to reality…

    And what if you could take this one step further and define your assembly process this way? Yesterday I spoke with a customer that is doing just that http://blog.vuuch.com/plm/assmebly-instructions-in-excel/2010/08/19. They have assembly steps in excel, 3DVIA Composer and paper and wanted to manage all this in a way that was simple, effective and did not take years and millions. What they came up with was fantastic. Give it a look and a try.

  • Chris, I agree, the single point of truth worked bad in the past 10-15 years of PDM/PLM software experience. DW was a try of big vendors like MS/Oracle/SAP etc. to produce a notable result. However, it appears as a very expensive. Mashups are cool… I think there is an opportunity to use web technologies (some of them developed as part of Web 2.0) to produce a better solution. In the end World Wide Web is the most decentralized system, and it is one that works (!). Best, Oleg