How the Bill of Materials Affects Product Development

Sept. 8, 2010
BOMs provide a rich definition of the product, inclusive of mechanical content, electrical content, embedded software, engineering calculations, documentation and service procedures.

There once was a time when design was done on paper. And to collaborate on a project, people would talk face-to-face -- usually in the same room. Flash forward to the age when we turned to 3D mechanical CAD systems, in large part, as the main vehicle to author a product's definition. Keep jumping forward to today.

While CAD models still play an important role, increased product complexity and globally distributed environments are forcing manufacturers to become adept at managing and evolving complete product definitions, not just the mechanical aspects. Keeping track of all these forms of product data, their associated variants, and all valid configurations, is a competitive necessity that requires a single source for truth.

For most companies, the bills-of-material (BOM) is now the central hub of product definition. BOMs convey the information needed by various departments, such as Engineering, Manufacturing and Services, to get the product built and to keep it running.

But what exactly is the effect of a bill of materials on product development? How important is it?

BOMs -- and the relationship between each functional view of the BOM -- are critically important for all facets of product development. For example, the manufacturing bill-of-materials (mBOM) is a derivation of engineering bill-of-materials (eBOM) that is of greatest interest to the manufacturing engineer. The mBOM forms the basis for the creation of production plans, work instructions, and resource assignments. As the eBOM changes, the mBOM must stay in lock-step, allowing the manufacturing engineer to accommodate any impact on production processes, or resource allocation.

Similarly, the service bill-of-materials (sBOM) is concerned with the serviceable components and maintenance procedures of fielded equipment. It too, must be inextricably linked to the eBOM. This ability to update across BOMs is a significant source of strategic value for any organization, as it ensures product manufacturing plans and service information stays in alignment with the evolving product design. It drives operational efficiency by ensuring all team members are acting on the most current view of information.

Furthermore BOMs represent a powerful opportunity for virtual simulation, beyond the CAD-based FEA (Finite Element Analysis) approaches. BOM-based product analysis can be used to gauge performance of hypothetical product configurations along multiple dimensions -- environmental performance, cost, and reliability, for example. Thus, insight can be gained and issues addressed early on in the development process.

As organizations become increasingly global, access to data -- and the right data - has become critical. While MCAD models define form and function, they alone are insufficient as the complete representation of a product. Through robust capabilities to manage and evolve BOMs for all functional areas, Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) plays a more pivotal role than ever before. BOMs provide a rich definition of the product, inclusive of mechanical content, electrical content, embedded software, engineering calculations, documentation and service procedures.

It is exciting to think about how far we have come and how much more value we will continue to derive in the product development process by continuing to evolve the use of BOMs collectively. Early awareness. Ongoing sharing of data. Real time change and configuration management and control. Giving and receiving information that can support and improve the product through its life. And, as Web 2.0 technologies mature, organizations will be able to leverage the BOMs in new ways to advance collaboration and development.

Tom Shoemaker is vice president of Solutions Marketing for PTC which provides product lifecycle management (PLM), content management and dynamic publishing solutions.

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