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Higher Quality Products Possible With Bill Of Materials Management

When many think of bill of materials (BOM) management, they think about the design and engineering components of a product development lifecycle, but when it comes to high quality products, it’s all about manufacturing. Now, that’s not to say that engineering doesn’t have a big role in manufacturing’s success in producing high-quality products—proper BOM management early will enable manufacturing to have a better grip on what they need to get done, leaving them with more capacity to figure out how to get it done.

At the core of this discussion is the different between the engineering BOM (EBOM) and the manufacturing BOM (MBOM)—while the former is organized based on how a product is designed, the latter needs to include all the necessary information about assembly. If it’s in the box that’s sent to the customer, it needs to be represented in the MBOM, and this includes off-the-shelf parts, product manuals, software, and anything used in the assembly process. It’s an incredibly complex document, but BOM management, with the assistance of product lifecycle management (PLM) systems, can help reduce complexity, which equates directly to a higher-quality end product.

How does that happen? Of course, good manufacturing begins with a well-managed EBOM, and modern-day PLM systems will do an enormous amount of legwork in ensuring that everyone works from a synchronized platform while meeting a number of compliance levels for quality, including both internal and external (ISO 9001, for example) standards. These systems will also keep an entire historical record of what the engineers have put together and changed, meaning that when manufacturing gets their hands on it, they have full-spectrum documentation of all the thought processes.The better and more complete the EBOM is, the better the MBOM will be—and that leads to improved decisions on how to manufacture a product.

Within an organization, inaccuracies in the BOM can lead to improper tooling, construction to improper specifications, and more. Any inaccuracy means a reduction in quality, and whether or not that passes QA is irrelevant—a company invested in making the best products it can shouldn’t accept something that barely scrapes by in its various tolerances. Risk-taking when it comes to manufacturing quality is simply asking for issues later in the product development lifecycle, as manufacturing transitions into service. BOM management tools will enable companies to logically produce the deep-level MBOMs that are necessary to not only listing all the necessary components, but also listing them in logical fashions that each department (production, packaging, and so forth) can understand and collaborate on.With all key players operating from a level playing field, each contribution will mesh together better, leading to a higher-quality end product.

And because the MBOM contains every component necessary to create a finished product, this often involves collaboration with third-parties, such as contract manufacturers, who will supply certain components. Good BOM management is central to ensuring that the manufacturer doesn’t order wrong parts, or incorrect quantities of parts, or parts that aren’t compatible with the rest of the sub-assembly or overall system. All of this leads to reduced quality at best, and complete rework at worst. Good BOM management from the beginning, and management that’s tightly integrated with PLM systems to do much of the heavy lifting, will make sure that the right parts are ordered, at the right times, and from suppliers who give your organization exactly what you specified and paid for. Anything less means quality suffers.

Many companies also forget that documenting their manufacturing process, including historical changes and progress, is just as critical asdocumenting the product itself—every product creates the need to create other internal products, such as jigs or fixtures, to help assemble it. These pieces should receive the same care and attention,via BOM management, as the product itself. By placing all the information within a BOM itself, this means that plant floor engineers and the fabrication shop will be able to construct these tools whenever that becomes necessary—due to a broken fixture, or the need to ramp up manufacturing. When assembly components work correctly, they make work more efficient and reduce cycle times. Even better, well-managed and replicable fixtures and jigs mean that products are made in repeatable ways, and with a more consistent degree of high quality.

All of these different degrees of quality management can be managed through the PLM as well—these systems will allow manufacturers to specify a need to meet certain quality certifications, such as ISO 9001, in addition to internal standards, with completely definable categories, thresholds, and tolerances. Because the PLM system allows for on-demand analysis of the BOM during all phases of the product development lifecycle—whether it’s in engineering or in manufacturing—keyplayers will be notified immediately if that internal specification won’t be met due to an incorrectly-described part.

Quality is critical to all industries, and an issue that absorbs countless hours and a great deal of innovative energy at manufacturers of all types and sizes. The advent of better BOM management tools doesn’t aim to deflect any of that effort, but rather make it easier to manage, navigate, and realize. By remembering that the BOM is the key document for every step in the product development lifecycle, and managing it appropriately based on each step, companies can realize higher-quality products—all without burdening staff or, even worse, throwing money at the issue and hoping it will fix itself.

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