If you’re committed to investing in a bill of materials (BOM) management tool, that’s a big step in the right direction to creating a product development lifecycle that has structured processes, is repeatable, and reduces the risk of error. Unfortunately, finding the right solution for your business isn’t necessarily easy, so I’ve compiled ten key features, components, and details that will make a big difference when you’re finally ready to better manage your bill of materials.
Cost: Any business needs to consider the investment necessary to introduce new software into the product development lifecycle, and traditional enterprise software often scares away would-be buyers for its assumed high cost. In some offerings, this might be true, but one needs to factor in the ROI potential for higher quality and reduced scrap. Other offerings are offered in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, and operate under a subscription model—with increased features or user licenses comes increased cost. In theory, this helps businesses scale their needs depending on their changing business.
It’s more than Excel: While spreadsheets might seem like the easiest solution due to the ubiquity of software that can open and make changes within them, Excel doesn’t offer many of the major features that make BOM management tools shine. Yes, the cost for Excel user licenses might be low, but using Excel will end up costing you money in rework, lost time and errors.
Real-time collaboration: Moving into the nuts and bolts of BOM management, any system that’s to be seriously considered must offer a single repository for the BOM, one that is updated automatically with every change and synchronized across all key players. Every engineering change request (ECR) and engineering change order (ECO) should be immediately recognized by the underlying BOM and adjusted for accordingly. The system’s tools should encourage good processes and revision control, which means that everyone is looking at the same information. Two Words: Repeatable Process!
Revision control: While the most up-to-date version of the BOM is necessary to ensure healthy collaboration, it’s also important that engineers be able to understand a product’s entire lifecycle, including the ideas or parts that were scrapped. These contextual clues can help engineers make better choices about further revisions, and reduce the risk that they re-introduce a flaw that had already been ironed out.
Technical roll-out: As with cost, some BOM management tools are offered on premise requiring a full infrastructure and software/hardware management. And, others are run as a SaaS from the cloud—every organization should consider the pros and cons of each, and how they would fit within their particular needs. If an organization is considering a solution that needs to be run internally, they should also consider what kind of technical roll-out they’ll need in order to make the service run. Will they need more servers to handle the additional load, and are those servers secure? Will they need to hire technical support staff in order to handle service requests and questions from engineers? What happens if a server suffers a critical failure? Are there backups and contingencies in place? The SaaS model involves outsourcing many of those questions to another organization—this can reduce internal overhead and lessen the burden on staff, but many worry about security and uptime, which are constant battles for even the most established cloud services.
Security: As mentioned earlier, keeping data secure from prying eyes is of utmost importance, but what about the companies you do let peek at your BOM, such as contract manufacturers or members of your supply chain? A good BOM management tool will offer contextual views of the BOM, which can then be shared with these partners, giving them visibility of only what they need to get the work done. In a time where more companies are concerned about trade secrets, it can’t hurt to be sure your supply chain is locked down.
Integration with CAD: Because CAD software is used in hardware development of all types, it’s important that stakeholders be able to view and manipulate CAD designs as needed. An engineer shouldn’t have to run over to the design team in order to view a specific part to see how it fits within the larger picture—visualization allows them to better understand the product and gives them the opportunity to collaborate in real-time with the design team on any potential issues early on.
Attribute visibility: Look for BOM management tools that can automatically recalculate the totals for cost or weight values—these will enable key players to notice at-a-glance when a change will have a dramatic effect. Without that visibility, a new sub-assembly might surprisingly add too much weight to a piece of otherwise lightweight technology, forcing the manufacturer back to re-work in order to determine a solution.
Mobile (global) access: More and more companies need to collaborate between offices in different locations, or different countries, or with stakeholders who require the ability to stay connected while being mobile. The chosen solution should allow access to the BOM from any location, at any time, from a variety of devices—this will ensure that there are no roadblocks in the way of innovation and collaboration.
Can it unite the teams: Even if access is enabled for multinational firms, it’s important that the chosen tool actually be strong enough to unite each group under a single umbrella. A single organization might have one process in Excel, another in paper, another homegrown solution halfway around the world, and more—it’s important to take the time while choosing a BOM tool to determine that it can handle all of these disparate needs.
While by no means an exhaustive list of the key considerations in choosing a BOM management tool, staying aware of these ten points will help narrow down the potential partners and ensure that employees are quickly on boarded, so that they can start being more productive and collaborative than ever before.
- Tyler Beck, Technical Marketing