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Could A Better BOM Have Changed The Star Wars Universe?

Imagine that you’re Armitage Hux, the First Order captain responsible for helping assemble the Starkiller Base, a piece of machinery large that occupies the majority of an entire planet. What can you do to make sure all your engineers are on the same page? How do you go about ensuring there is a smooth transition between design and manufacturing? How do you collaborate on a single piece of machinery from production facilities that exist on entirely different galaxies?

There’s no question that Hux and his compatriots used some kind of product lifecycle management (PLM) system in order to corroborate this immense amount of detail and sheer volume of parts, but somewhere along the line, they made a mistake: they introduced a fatal flaw in the shield and its control mechanisms, which led directly into the Resistance’s ability to get inside and take it down.

How can contemporary PLM illustrate a fictional, star-destroying base?Or vice versa? Well, the problems we face today aren’t that different—they’re just scaled down in size and complexity. In the last few years alone we’ve seen products go to market with significant issues,likecars with sticky accelerator pedals,or phones that refused to make calls if you held them a certain way.

According to the Wookieepedia, the Starkiller Base was indeed protected by a shield, with one inherent flaw: its refresh rate was fast enough to prevent sublight speeds (slower than the speed of light), but not fast enough to prevent a ship flying at hyperspeed to sneak its way in. There’s nothing the Starkiller Base engineers could have done to fix that—we’re all beholden to the technological advances of other industries in the parts that we use for our own. Perhaps more concerning was the engineers’ decision to have that shield controlled from a single location. If that control got attacked, or was sabotaged, it meantHux would either need to send troops there to regain power, or override the controls from another location—two bad solutions, according to the Wookiepedia editors.

There’s a few places with the product development lifecycle where this issue might have been raised, and a whole host of reasons why it might not have been.

Lack of change management processes: Even an organization as structure-loving as the First Order might not be utilizing their PLM’s capacity to create workflows for change management, including engineering change requests (ECRs) and engineering change orders (ECOs). Sometimes, company culture can create a workplace in which change is feared, not accepted. In the case of the Starkiller Base, this might have been due to the sheer complexity of implementing change—moving shield control to another location on the planet might have created complexity that would have taken years to solve—but without change management, no one has visibility into what those difficulties might be. In many cases, it’s better to know why you’re not making a change than not understanding the trouble altogether.

Not a truly collaborative BOM:The bill of materials (BOM) needs to be a collaborative document that originates from a single, synchronized source.That’s possible today and should have been possible in the Star Wars universe,butit can be difficult when there are lots of suppliers in play, or when stakeholders don’t utilize the benefits of the PLM. One can imagine Kylo Ren stomping around the

Starkiller Base during its construction, demanding changes on-the-fly, in ways that don’t honor the collaboration needed for a successful BOM.

Fear of Hux (or Kylo Ren): Hopefully a contemporary company’s employees aren’t so afraid of their superiors that they’ll decline to file an ECR out of fear, but in the case of the Starkiller Base, PLM might only be able to do so much.

Lack of intellectual property management: By one means or another, the Resistance got hold of the information about the shield refresh rate and centralized control, enabling their ability to make precise decisions about how to attack. In a way, this isn’t all that different from the threat that sharing a product’s BOM with the supply chain, which might reveal certain elements of intellectual property that a company would rather keep secret. With intellectual property theft rising every year, one can only imagine how extensive the practice might be in the Star Wars universe. PLM systems do enable smart sharing with the supply chain, but it might have been a missed opportunity for the First Order. If they had structured their BOM into sub assemblies that contained only the information necessary to produce a certain small part of the shield control, their contract manufacturers would not have visibility to the entire infrastructure—including the flaws.

Until we get a Star Wars spin-off film that covers, in great detail, the engineering processes that went into the Starkiller Base, we can only extrapolate on exactly where the product development lifecycle fell apart for the First Order. But the truth we can know with certainty is that PLM systems are the only way to manage any degree of complexity. We can’t control our own version of Kylo Ren or General Hux, but we can use any software means necessary to reduce risk and stamp out quality concerns—and keep the Millennium Falcon at bay.

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