The challenges of distributed BOM handover in data-driven manufacturing

The challenges of distributed BOM handover in data-driven manufacturing


Disclosure: As a co-founder of openBoM, I understand that my opinion and thoughts about future challenges can be unintentionally biased. Nevertheless, I believe the topic itself is very important, so I decided to share the information and my opinion anyway.

Manufacturing is changing these days. While you can hear lot of hype about Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial Internet 4.0 these days, the question about what will come next is probably the one that we need to ask. Remember what Wayne Gretzky was saying – “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”

Recent Harvard Business Review article The Biggest Challenges of Data-Driven Manufacturing by Willy C. Shih and Helmuth Ludwig is exactly this kind of reading. The article speaks about where “manufacturing puck” is going. According to the article, manufacturing is shifting towards event-triggering paradigm.

In the future vision where the factory only produces a product when there is customer demand or an operation is only performed when there is a “data” signal, we shift to a different paradigm: event-triggered control. In this model, the factory responds to events as and when they occur. One example is an order for a product configured in a specific way.

Data signals, events, mass-configurations- all these are very interesting things. But the reality of manufacturing is ugly. As I previously wrote in my openBoM article – Hosted Databases and Future Granularity in BOM Management.

Our data management paradigm in manufacturing today looks like this: there are databases everywhere. Every company is managing its own database. Sounds simple and straightforward enough. But here is a problem.This approach can work for a single company. When two companies need to work together, this approach doesn’t work. Your data management paradigm will fail. You will need to pull data out of the database (export) and bring the data to another database (import)


It made me think again about data handover in manufacturing between different organizations and systems. Integration of data and information in manufacturing is a big challenge. In one of my earlier articles I wrote that Manufacturing Future will depend on solving old PLM-ERP integration problem. Previous siloed enterprise models used data ownership as one of the fundamental models. To own data and allow access in a silo (such as PLM, ERP or MES) was one of the first priorities. Today and tomorrow the speed of communication will be more important. To make collaboration and communication fast will be a criteria for future models to survive.

Another passage from HBR articles is a good configuration about existing challenges. Engineering and manufacturing software industry was following point-silo development paradigm.

Most investments over the last three decades have gone into point solutions for design and manufacturing, and the integration of the “transaction oriented” ERP systems. Once a design was finalized, manufacturing used the engineering bill of materials and manually added relevant manufacturing (manufacturing bill of materials) and process data (process bill of materials). But a major challenge arises from the fact that because these systems were designed independently, they weren’t designed originally to talk to each other.

Of course, software developers have long since figured out how to export data from one application to another. But changes to the original engineering bill of materials were often not moved back upstream. If the goal is to tie together all the pieces in the production process so that for example quality defects can immediately feed back to the design, enabling quick changes to everything including the bill of materials and the automation design, one needs to share data so that every participant in the design, production, distribution, and selling process is operating off one integrated data model, what product life-cycle management (PLM) professionals call a “single source of truth.”

Every company I know figured out some export/import procedures by using a combination of technologies from brutal SQL hacking to fascinating middleware enterprise services bus technologies (ESB). The truth is that all these technologies are fundamentally focusing on “data syncing paradigm”.

I want to refer you to one of my blogs – PLM: from Sync to Link. This is a real need to rethink “syncing paradigm”. Future of data-driven manufacturing will demand exactly that.  It will allow to simplify data management and will help to reuse data. It requires conceptual rethink of how problems of data integrations are solved between vendors. By providing “link to data” instead of actually “syncing data”, we can help company to streamline processes and improve quality of products.

The opportunity for new data and cloud technologies is to come and redefine BOM management paradigm based on siloed databases and synchronization of information. It will allow to build a technology to support  data handover between companies and systems and optimize processes in a distributed manufacturing environment.

One example of these technologies is openBoM. I started to work on these technologies with my partner Vic Sanchez earlier this year. Check out openBoM website. The underlining openBoM technology is distributed multi-tenant database allowing to people and systems to work in a distributed environment in order to connect departments, divisions, OEMs, suppliers and contractors. It keeps change history and can consolidate data operations performed by multiple users at the same time. The “facade” of the technology is spreadsheet-like user interface allowing to simultaneous BOM editing.

Network is a paradigm shift. You can see how “networks” are changing the world around us. The future of manufacturing belongs to network too. Think about network of OEMs, suppliers, contractors working together in a distributed environment. This network can react on a single customer order and trigger operations similar to how Uber can pull more cars on the street based on surged demand.


What is my conclusion? The technologies are changing. New cloud and data management technologies can unlock new potential for manufacturing companies to support global processes, optimizing supply chain and trigger operations driven by physical customer orders. HBR articles clearly point out on the opportunity of building of “Amazon for manufacturing” in the next decade. A note to for strategists and technologists working on future engineering and manufacturing products. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.

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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