How the idea of single BoM can fit variants and configuration management?

How the idea of single BoM can fit variants and configuration management?


I had a chance to present over the video to a selected group of professionals at INFUSEIT seminar in Oslo -PLM-seminar at Gardermoen: Product Configuration and Variant Management. My presentation was via video link. However, I look forward to learn more when presentations will become available.

I found the survey done by Infuseit very interesting. It was about looking for priorities. You can see it below – product variant and configuration got a first score.

Based on the input from a survey among PLM-professionals in the Nordics, we are now in progress of defining the agenda for the next Infuseit PLM-seminar, which will take place at Oslo Airport Gardermoen, November 26th. The topic that most of the 62 respondents voted for was “Product Configuration and Variant Management”.

infoseit semnar priorities

Product configurations and variants. This is a very fascinating topic. You probably remember that – any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black. It belongs to Henry Ford. It was almost 100 years ago. And that time is over. Think about modern products.  But try to go back 15-20 years. The problem of product configurations and variants was mostly visible in aerospace, defense and automotive industry. Mass production was a mainstream option. Not any more.

Even simpler products are getting more configurable these days. Think about web cameras, home security systems, connected devices, etc. Think about all products surrounding you and you will find “variants” even you think they are not configurable. Our desire to get customizable products tailored to our needs or our desire to be different. Think about individual car configurations, different electronic equipment, custom tailored headphones and even custom tailored lingerie. Configurations and variants is a nightmare of modern manufacturing that is looking how to mass customize products for the cost of mass production environment.

In this environment, BoM is one of the key elements that connects product design and configurations with manufacturing and production. And BoM is insanely complex too. There are three main dimensions of BoM complexity – multidisciplinary nature of data (mechanical, electronic, software), product lifecycle (from requirements to disposal and and re-fabrication) and nature of changes (nothing stays static).

The complexity of BoM is multiplied by systems involved into product development process – design, engineering, manufacturing, support. It is all about CAD, PDM, PLM, ERP, SCM… you name it. And what we do all the time is synchronizing data between these environments. Which means – Bill of Materials, which goes from CAD to PLM, then to ERP and later to support and maintenance systems.

The idea of “single BOM” can help. Think about logically connected data representing variety of information pieces related to product. In my view, it was a dream of early PLM vision. But most of PLM visions until today remained only vision with the attempt to gather information (single point of truth) in a PLM database. The reality of BoM is multiple systems connected alongside product development process.

Now, add variants and configuration to the story. Traditionally, configurations were presented as a matrix (so called “150% BOM”). Take a look on one of my earlier blog here. The problem of matrix representation is functional limit. It is hard to represent product configuration using matrix. It is usually requires some additional rules, dependencies and options. Configurable BOM is a way to manage it. The combination of “generic BOM” and “resolved configuration” will provide a right information to all data consumers.


I think, connecting the idea of single and configurable BOM can be very powerful. It will help to manage a consistent set of connected information for multiple product development and manufacturing stages and address a specific product design and manufacturing options.

Below you can see a link to my slides from the seminar.

What is my conclusion? Products are getting more complex these days. It includes product variants and configurations. Manufacturing companies are looking how to solve the following problems – How to share configurable BoM? How  share BoM data between engineering and manufacturing environment? How to stop synchronizing data and creating multiple data redundancies that lead to costly mistakes.  There is no simple answer. But the idea of “single BoM” can help. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital network-based platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers and their supply chain networksMy opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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