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Why The Bill Of Materials Is Critical For Automotive Suppliers

Since the turn of the21stCentury, the automotive industry has accelerated itspace of change, and doesn’t appear to be stopping. Models are refreshed faster than ever before, there are more drive train options (think hybrids or electric vehicles), and consumers demand the addition of mobile-like technology (such as touchscreens for dashboards)everywhere. To navigate these complexities and the sheer pace of change, more automotive suppliers are relying heavily on product lifecycle management (PLM) tools that offer extensive bill of materials (BOM) tools.

Why? If automotive suppliers aren’t competitive, the automaker is just going to look elsewhere.Where, then, can BOM tools make the biggest difference?

Establishing a single point of collaboration

An automaker will be utilizing a PLM system of their own, and will likely share relevant portions of their BOM with suppliers in order to collaborate on a particular component, such as a radiator. Because these systems can integrate with each other, the supplier’s internalBOM management tools will create a single point of BOM-related contact between the supplier and the automaker. Because collaboration can happen on a BOM level, and the two PLM systems are coordinating with one another, this ensures the supplier is working from the latest automaker designs, and that the automaker can stay aware of any potential issues that arise during the design phase.

Helping suppliers protect their IP

Even though a supplier builds parts for a partner automaker, it doesn’t mean they don’t have their own intellectual property (IP) that they would like to keep confidential. A Tier 1 supplier, for example, works with Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers and other contract manufacturers to collaborate on that same radiator—why shouldn’t they aim to keep their IP safe? PLM-enabled BOM management tools allow these suppliers to send only the necessary information on to their own supply chain, ensuring that the full view stays locked down without sacrificing on quality or collaboration.

Maintaining a global footprint, internally and externally

Many suppliers are global entities themselves, positioning engineering and manufacturing capabilities wherever their partners have chosen to produce vehicles. They need to be able to manage product development among dozens of key players in various places around the globe, and that’s only possible with BOM tools that create a single repository of synchronized data. Without the sophistication to effectively manage a global footprint, inefficiencies or errors will lead to improperly designed parts, which could halt the entire production process or cause quality issues down the road. And we see enough recalls already.

Managing BOMs that are more than parts

Today’s vehicles are not like the Model Ts of the past—they are positively brimming with electronics, all of which need to be powered by software. A supplier that builds a vehicle’s braking system, for example, will likely need to keep track of firmware revisions and additional software that might collaborate with a vehicle’s dashboard, for example, to reveal regenerative braking data.

Even if a supplier doesn’t engage with the software themselves—perhaps they collaborate with another technical firm in a different country—they need to ensure that changes to the hardware are reflected in the codebase, and vice versa, which can be an enormously complex prospect. Older methods of managing the BOM, such as Excel, have a great deal of difficulty navigating the different needs of hardware-vs. software-related BOM items.

Keep processes fully compliant

Automakers are notorious for demanding high compliance hurdles for their suppliers, in part because consumers are fickle creatures, and in part because in order to launch a vehicle worldwide, an incredible number of compliance requirements must be met. They often require suppliers maintainISO 9001 certifications, which PLM systems are capable of helping track, in addition to whatever other systems they might deem necessary. By using BOM management tools, stakeholders will understand exactly when and how any compliance issue is triggered, so that they can immediately start to make the necessary revisions.

Aids with customer relations

Over the last decade, automakers have been forced to recall millions of vehicles due to quality and safety concerns, and nowthey’re aiming for more visibility into their parts than ever before. If an issue arises, automakers will demand to know exactly when a part was manufactured, and how many were made in that line, and what revisions or changes might have contributed to the flaw.Without proper BOM tools in place, this might be difficult to deliver, if not impossible.

More than anything, PLM and BOM management tools aim to give automotive suppliers the systems they need to stay competitive in today’s fast-paced market. It’s not to say that it will be an easy road for a supplier to navigate all these complex issues, but it’s important to establish a firm ground on which to build a deeper relationship with that automaker, wherever the road takes them.

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