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Let Engineers Drive Innovation With BOM Management And A Blank Slate

When a bill of materials (BOM) gets in the way of innovation, the entire product development lifecycle comes to a standstill—work might still get done, but if designers and engineers can’t innovate, products arrive in the market with less complexity than competitors, leading to reduced revenues and loss of market share. By using product lifecycle management (PLM) systems, which include certain BOM management tools, manufacturers can ensure innovation. How? When PLM works, it becomes invisible, but at the same time giving engineers all the resources they need to ideate and iterate on the next big product.

Conception

Company A is a dog toy manufacturer that sells its products around the globe. It doesn’t have a PLM system in place, and its BOM management is done primarily through an Excel document, which resides on a shared drive that’s available for those inside the facility and connected to the intranet. While this company works through the conception stage, their thinkers and engineers must collect collaborate with its global team in order to conceive of a product that will be successful across markets while meeting various regulatory requirements. Without a central PLM system, the process of collecting this information and corroborating it against the central BOM is time-consuming, especially as conception transitions into design and engineering. This means that those thinkers and engineers, instead of working on a key innovation—a type of rubber completely impervious to even the largest of dogs—are forced to micro manage the technical side of the collaborative process.

Company B is also a dog toy manufacturer that sells its products around the globe. It uses a cloud-based PLM system with BOM management tools—even before the BOM becomes an increasingly complex document during design, the company’s overseas staff is able to insert customer data in addition to their own concepts into the PLM for their headquarters engineers to consider. The necessary regulatory rules are automatically registered in the BOM, and immediately begin to fire off warnings if there are early compliances issues. Because the PLM is cloud-based and accessible from anywhere via mobile devices, Company B’s engineer can make contributions from wherever a big idea strikes them—there’s that big rubber innovation that will keep the squeak going, no matter how hard the Labrador tries.

Design

Company A, with its Excel-based BOM, is forced to spend a great deal of time navigating the document and ensuring changes were made, saved, and synchronized correctly. Because of limitations with Excel, only one person can be touching the document at any given time, meaning that engineers must either wait in order to put in their engineering change request (ECR) or go through some dedicated funnel, such as an overworked administrative assistant. Engineers spend their days micromanaging or fixing management issues rather solving problems. Here, the BOM becomes a bottleneck for the entire process—and Company A doesn’t even have their new rubber compound developed yet.

Company B’s engineers are able to immediately put their ECRs into the BOM means that they can get back to putting together other fixes or moving on to different aspects of the dog toy in question. The BOM is automatically synchronized across the enterprise, so those key players overseas can respond to changes and make their own—this can help push innovation forward faster than ever, particularly when it comes to dealing with compliance and quality issues. Because the multi-level BOM is already being managed correctly, manufacturing can get involved earlier than ever, and without any communication gaps. Manufacturing will be able to address any potential concerns earlier than ever, which equates to greater efficiency in the whole product development lifecycle and further developments or innovations on top of the already-advanced product.

Manufacturing

Company A moves into manufacturing after a protracted battle with their BOM during the design phase. Their entire conception and design process has been less innovative because of the BOM management overhead. They have put themselves at higher risk of quality concerns that would create scrap and force the company to turn back and re-engineer the product. Their overseas entities aren’t happy with the overall design, which won’t necessarily appeal to those markets. When they toss the new toy into their Labrador testing ground, it falls apart in a matter of minutes. Do they continue with manufacturing, or do they step back into a product development lifecycle that offered them little in the way of enabling innovation?

Company B, meanwhile, begins manufacturing with a healthy BOM that is fully compliant across markets and has been tested to all internal standards for quality. Because there were no gaps in communication between manufacturing and engineering in previous steps, manufacturing proceeds smoothly, without unexpected interruptions or hiccups, in part because the PLM system’s ability to let manufacturing engineers stick to what they know best—how to tool up a production line, and how to organize the plant floor for maximum efficiency—and not in ad-hoc communications with design engineers over one particular cell in an Excel sheet they can’t understand.

The picture here is clear—Company B wins out by a longshot. Their product stays impervious to that same Labrador test, leaving everyone satisfied—the dog and the key players alike.The type of concerns and hiccups that Company A experienced are incredibly common, even for well-managed enterprises. The wild success of Company B might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s illustrative of the power of PLM: by better managing the BOM, enterprises can effectively make its management challenges invisible. And what does an engineer love more than a completely blank slate?

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