Many mechanical design companies think of the bill of materials (BOM) as a report of the components used in their design. Increasing levels of design sophistication and higher levels of cross-departmental communication has lead to a different view of this piece of product documentation. Actually, the piece of documentation isn’t viewed differently, but its contents are seen in a different light.
As engineering departments start to include sales, manufacturing, and field service into their planning/design cycles, designers quickly realize that they need a communication language that can easily cross disciplinary barriers. Not all sales people understand 3D modeling, drafting standards, and the intricacies of relational design, but 90% of most product-related businesses understand the structure of their product. They know that the final assembled widget can’t make it out the door until that long-lead subassembly X is received from supplier A, or that customers in Europe have real trouble with that new field-replaceable drive subsystem. In this context, everyone in the organization is able to talk about the BOM (or product structure) to communicate.
When companies come to the realization that product structure is a key communication platform and develop a good way for everyone to comment on and modify the BOM, information starts flowing more quickly. People start understanding the context of changes more easily, and collaboration becomes a constructive activity rather than a blame-avoidance exercise.
In recent years, we have noticed a trend developing in this area. Many companies choosing to implement PDM would like to connect their PDM and ERP systems to avoid duplicate data entry. Similarly, they want to expose the PDM vaults to everyone in a read-only mode to open up communication, but moving to the next step of truly opening the BOM for input and collaboration is a big step.
One Razorleaf client is making this move with the hope of getting input from the sales team more quickly to the design team to shorten the company’s time to market. Another client knows the early pricing estimates are key to their success, and that BOMs need to exist before CAD designs in order for them to meet cost goals. Yet another client understands that their huge volume of manufacturing and operations employees cannot possibly operate in synchronization unless everyone has a central framework for accessing data, and they are planning to use product structure as that framework.
Different businesses are approaching this issue in different ways and for different flavors of the same reason. A very real trend is becoming apparent: there is value in managing a living, breathing BOM throughout the life of a product and across disciplines of the company.