- Phase 1: Document Control
- Phase 2: Your Choice (often this is Change Management or WT Parts, depending upon what is most important to your organization)
- Phase 3: Quality Management
I’m sure at least once in your life you’ve heard the saying, ‘Work smarter, not harder.’ But what a cliche, right?! Well, for those of you managing your Bill of Materials (BOMs) in Excel, it’s time to step away from the cell block prison (pun intended).
In this article, we’re going to break down what it actually means to revitalize your BOM strategy with the Digital Thread to start seeing the results you want.
What Is The Digital Thread?
First of all, let’s start with the basics. The Digital Thread is a term used to describe the seamless flow of information throughout the manufacturing process. From design and engineering to production and after-sales support. It provides a way to connect all the data and information generated at different stages and from systems of the product lifecycle.
Generally, the Digital Thread provides value by enabling better visibility and control of any processes that require or produce product data. It enables manufacturers to collaborate more effectively, automate and optimize workflows, and quickly respond to changes. All while adjusting quickly to customer needs.
Bill of Materials (BOM)
Next, let’s break down the concept of a Bill of Materials. A complete Bill of Materials (BoM) list usually contains all of the parts and components needed to create or manufacture an end product. You might think of a BoM as a recipe ingredient list. The information about each part can include details such as part names, part numbers, quantity required, and cost per unit. Not to mention, BoMs contain other relevant part details such as material type, color, or size if applicable; supplier information; serial numbers, etc.
By consolidating and organizing all the pertinent information product information, the BoM becomes a centralized resource. A critical resource that facilitates the manufacturing processes of specified products.
Ultimately, the goal of the BoM is to help track inventory and verify missing parts during assembly. Equally as important, BoMs are critical to support a healthy supply chain, as well as help with purchasing decisions and more.
The Digital Thread and Bill of Materials Working Together
Balancing a plethora of product information – it’s no surprise, the best BoM management strategy used within the industry does not leverage solely Microsoft Excel. Nor does it rely upon one Enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Instead it works to unite data from multiple systems into a single source of truth.
Sounds great doesn’t it? But, if you’re like most – your product data lives all over the place in different systems from different departments. This situation tends to create data siloes resulting in time-consuming manual tasks using outdated operational processes. Generally, these are some of the biggest problems that inhibit manufacturers from achieving their business initiatives.
Oftentimes, during our EAC Assessments, we hear multiple teams across the enterprise and different management levels are frustrated by broken processes. In short, there is a lack of key information employees need to do their jobs right, at the time they need it most.
Meanwhile, the digital thread uses advanced technology (such as product lifecycle management systems as well as the Internet of Things) to connect critical disparate processes. This, in turn, helps minimize manual tasks, and breaks down data siloes. Implementing the digital thread to your BoM strategy creates a major impact for all stakeholders involved. For instance, design teams, engineers, manufacturing, assembly, operations, finance, purchasing, and even marketing.
How The Digital Thread Supports Engineering
Furthermore, the Digital Thread plays a crucial role in supporting engineering and bill of materials (BOM) management by providing seamless connectivity and accessibility to relevant data throughout the product lifecycle. Here’s how the digital thread benefits these areas:
1. Engineering Collaboration
Firstly, the digital thread allows engineers to collaborate effectively by providing a centralized platform for sharing and accessing engineering data. This facilitates cross-functional collaboration, enables real-time communication, and reduces errors or miscommunications during the design and development process.
2. Design Consistency
Secondly, the digital thread ensures design consistency by maintaining a single source of truth for engineering data. Changes made in the design phase are automatically propagated throughout the digital thread, ensuring that all related documents, models, and specifications remain synchronized.
3. BOM Accuracy and Visibility
The digital thread integrates BOM management, configuration management, and BoM transformation capabilities. This enables accurate and up-to-date BOMs, as the data will automatically reflect changes. Additionally, it provides real-time visibility into the BoM status, including component availability, sourcing information, and cost implications.
4. Change Management
Next, the digital thread streamlines change management processes. By automating change notifications, approvals, and tracking. Essentially, it ensures that engineering changes are effectively communicated, documented, and implemented across the relevant stages of the product lifecycle, minimizing errors and delays.
5. Manufacturing Process Optimization
By connecting engineering data with manufacturing process management, the digital thread enables better coordination and optimization of production processes. By in large, system and data integration allows for improved manufacturing planning, efficient resource allocation, and reduced lead times.
6. Enhanced Visualization and Analysis
Another example includes leveraging augmented reality (AR) design sharing to provide visual representations of designs. In detail, enabling stakeholders to view and analyze products in a virtual environment. It’s recommended to use AR to enhance design reviews, simplify communication, and facilitate better decision-making.
Overall, the digital thread improves engineering and BoM management. Markedly, by streamlining processes, enhancing collaboration, ensuring data consistency, and providing visibility across the product lifecycle. It promotes efficiency, accuracy, and agility in engineering and BoM-related activities. Leading to improved product quality and faster time to market in the long run.
How A Digital Thread BoM Strategy Streamlines Manufacturing
Simultaneously, the digital thread plays a significant role in enhancing the bill of materials (BoM) management for manufacturing, assembly, and quality control processes. In sum, here’s how the digital thread benefits these areas:
1. Manufacturing and Assembly Planning
The digital thread enables seamless integration between the BoM and manufacturing planning systems. It provides real-time visibility into the BoM, ensuring accurate and up-to-date information for manufacturing and assembly operations. This allows for efficient production planning, optimized resource allocation, and improved scheduling in all.
2. Supply Chain Integration
By connecting the BoM with supply chain management systems, the digital thread enhances supply chain visibility and collaboration. It enables better coordination with suppliers, accurate tracking of component availability, and improved procurement processes. As a result, it minimizes the risk of production delays and ensures timely delivery of materials.
3. Work Instructions and Assembly Guidance
Thirdly, the digital thread facilitates the creation and dissemination of detailed work instructions and assembly guidance based on the BoM data. This ensures that assembly operators have access to accurate and step-by-step instructions, reducing errors and improving productivity on the shop floor.
4. Quality Control and Traceability
The digital thread enables better quality control and traceability throughout the manufacturing process. By integrating the BoM with quality management systems, it ensures that quality requirements and specifications are adhered to during production. It also enables traceability of components and materials, making it easier to identify and address any quality issues or recalls.
5. Continuous Improvement and Feedback Loop
Additionally, the digital thread supports continuous improvement initiatives by capturing data and feedback from manufacturing and quality control processes. It enables the analysis of production data, identifies areas for improvement, and facilitates data-driven decision-making to enhance manufacturing efficiency and product quality.
6. Post-Market Monitoring
Finally, the digital thread extends beyond the manufacturing phase to support post-market monitoring and quality assurance. Integrating BoM data with field service management systems and customer feedback enables organizations to identify and address product issues, initiate product improvements, and provide timely support and maintenance.
All in all, the digital thread enhances BoM management for manufacturing and assembly processes by ensuring accurate and up-to-date information, facilitating supply chain integration, enabling effective work instructions, improving quality control, supporting continuous improvement efforts, and enabling post-market monitoring. Concurrently, it streamlines operations, improves product quality, and enhances customer satisfaction.
The Polaris Story
Polaris utilized PTC Windchill, an advanced product lifecycle management system, to transform their Bill of Materials into a reliable new business model backbone. As a result, it allowed them to create a connected enterprise.
Windchill PLM combines the digital thread framework with a maximized BoM and change management strategy. This powerful product lifecycle management platform organizes all information associated with the development of its products, allowing every stakeholder to access the latest up-to-date information in a dynamic format.
Once it was clear to Polaris that they had outgrown certain tools and processes, they coordinated and synchronized a digital thread of data throughout the enterprise by leveraging PTC Windchill.
As of today, Polaris’ Windchill PLM system enables them to manage and organize the bill of materials (BoM) and implemented configuration management practices. This helped transform their BoMs as needed, effectively managing changes, overseeing manufacturing processes, and utilizing augmented reality (AR) design-sharing capabilities.
By orchestrating these elements, the digital thread ensured seamless connectivity and flow of information across different stages and departments within Polaris. This enabled improved collaboration, streamlined workflows, effective change control, and enhanced manufacturing processes. On top of giving the ability to share and visualize designs using AR technology.
To sum it up, it’s time to put Excel away and start working smarter, not harder. Successful BoM management derives from a single source of truth throughout the enterprise in regard to all the data contained in the Bill of Materials. The Digital Thread allows for the seamless automated flow of the BoM information to create a truly connected enterprise, working in sync along every step of the manufacturing process.
As you’re onboarding with Windchill, it’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed by its wide array of functionality …assembly instructions, supplier management, classification searches… the list goes on and on.
Let’s face it – change can be intimidating, and ‘doing it all at once’ can seem like a lot.
In a perfect world, we’d always be implementing WT Parts and accounting for Change Management at the start of every single Windchill implementation, but the unfortunate truth is, that’s not always the case.
It’s natural to have the desire to implement a Windchill project in bite-sized pieces. This article aims to explain the advantages of phasing your Windchill implementation to do just that.
The Phased Approach
Our phased approach usually goes something like this:
First thing’s first – prioritize getting your data under control.
Start with your engineering data management. The check-in, check-out version control. Then when you’re comfortable with that, Change Management or WT Parts can be introduced as a viable next step.
Let’s not forget the costs associated with all these options. There are hard costs with respect to the implementation plan you decided on, along with any associated trainings or workshops you deemed necessary.
The end goal: a complete Product Lifecycle Management system that creates and enables a ‘digital thread’, ‘digital continuity’, ‘digital transformation’ (whatever you want to call it), throughout your entire organization.
Let’s talk about how you get there.
Phase 2: What is a WT Part? Why WT Parts?
The WT Part is misunderstood and why often, many shy away from it.
Sure, it’s a different concept, but that doesn’t mean its necessarily hard.
So, what do I mean by different? It’s different in the way that most organizations aren’t thinking about their engineering data.
But, as a matter of fact, that same engineering data is exactly what I would consider the ‘enabling piece’ which has the ability to facilitate the core functionality every organization should have within Windchill.
It’s a vital piece that lets you do all the ‘other stuff’.
Another way of describing the WT Part (or gear icon) is a central hub of all information that is related to a part. It has to do with your relevant CAD files, drawings, engineering change history, primary BoM structures that link to all your other parts.
I’ll use a hypothetical situation to explain.
There are all kinds of different parts that go into designing this bicycle. You have some assemblies that you have built up in Creo, along with a bunch of other different parts and sub-assemblies.
In this case your bicycle has a variety of different parts, that have many different versions – but the important part is – at this point, you have your data under control. You check out a part, make a change, check it back in. Soon enough, version A.1 becomes A.2, A.3, etc.
With WT Parts enabled, your system has the ability to create a paralleled data structure. This means you can have the same assembly structure in CAD that you do in Windchill.
WT Part acts almost as a placeholder (I like to think of it as a shoebox). Inside your shoebox, you can put all kinds of ‘other things’, and I’m not talking about just CAD files. For your organization this could mean PDF’s, published visualizations (allowing you to look at your bicycle in Creo view), word documents, links to other webpages, or just about anything else you want.
Let’s say (in this scenario) you outsource the break calibers, the tires, or the spokes.
WT Parts allows you to have images and direct links to your supplier webpages allowing you to document and specify the exact parts and versions you need. This creates a parallel data structure.
But even with your paralleled data structure (for your bicycle line), you know that how your products are modeled in CAD won’t mirror the way they need to be assembled in manufacturing.
Your manufacturing assembly process includes other things, such as tape, Loctite for the handlebars, cable shrouds, etc. In fact, there are all kinds of things you’re never going to model in CAD, but are still essential components within your manufacturing bill of material.
This allows you to properly represent how things should be put together in the shop.
Furthermore, down the line when you create a service bill of material, you’ll no longer need to need use your entire CAD structure (as it was designed in Creo) because your product only needs new tires and inner tubes.
With WT Parts you can easily create a service bill of material that states exactly what’s needed to service your product.
It creates individual containers allowing you to put things in, shuffle them around, and re-arrange them, so you can easily create different bill of material structures. These structures can even be based on what you need to do, downstream from your CAD models.
It also allows you to quickly create a service document explaining how to properly change your tires.
Phase 2: Change Mangement
You might be wondering why more organizations choose Change Management for phase 2 over WT Parts.
The answer is quite simple. It’s because most companies are already doing a change process today in one way, shape, or form.
You might be more familiar with the outdated process, or what I like to refer to as ‘the red folder’.
Many companies today still trudge around the office with that red manila folder when they need sign off on a change. They walk from station to station with documents, prints and more to whoever needs to sign off on that change to get it done.
The Windchill Change Management piece has the ability to replicate what your physical real-world processes can. This allows you to entrench the workflows you’ve already established digitally, inside Windchill.
This is also one of the many reasons why you should not be afraid of the Change Management capabilities inside of Windchill.
So how does change management inside of Windchill work exactly?
The out-of-the-box Windchill Change Management workflows include problem reports, change requests, and change notifications.
Built within the core capabilities of Windchill Change Management, there’s a process in place for problem reports.
Starting at the beginning, the typical entry level is what’s called, ‘the problem report’. You can think of this as your digital suggestion box. Anyone can create a problem report (PR).
With a widget, your problem report gets pushed forward to a change admin, who can then review that report.
Your change admin has the ability to either approve or reject the change request. They can even send it back to the person who originated it (if needed) to ask for further clarification.
This helps you easily keep track of your problem reports, know the length of time they have been opened, and be aware of how many reports are currently active. This enables you to see, as a company, how you’re doing with respect to your problem reports.
The next step along the way is a change request. In the instance that your problem report is moved forward, it gets sent to the next person in line who sees that as an engineering change request.
At this point, there may be some additional research to say, “well, wait, now what other part is used, or what other assembly part is done, and what they might impact?”
When deciding to make a change, its crucial to think downstream and about what the implications of that change might be.
This is what the engineering change request feature inside of Windchill is all about. It allows you to do the research.
Once you meet the set of criteria or you obtain a certain serial number, you can say – “yes, we are going to do that.”
This allows you to have a formalized process where you can either individually approve changes or run change requests through a more formalized review board.
That’s when the change notification task gets assigned back to your design engineer that can then go into Creo, open up the part, and make the change.
The best part? With Windchill Change Management you actually have a way to keep track of your changes, processes, and documentation.
You’ll no longer need to wonder what hasn’t been completed or what the status of a change request might be.
Although that’s the out of the box Windchill Change Management functionality, there’s a lot of subtleties and nuances that can be tailored and configured to your specific company needs. It doesn’t have to be a strict 1 to 1 mapping – there’s flexibility with respect to how you map and manage them.
Say, for example – you had three different problem reports on one specific part. You could now bundle those altogether and roll that into a single change request.
You could also take 2 or 3 different change requests and roll those forward into a single change notification.
Yes, this change process will be new and different – it’s designed to make your life easier.
The difference is – now you’re not cruising around the office with that red folder trying to catch up with all the information. Instead, everything you need is right in front of you. You can see which assemblies will be impacted, what you have on-hand, and what series you want to do the cutover on.
That concludes the first half of a closed loop change management process.
Phase 3: Windchill Quality
The second half of the closed loop change management process stems from things such as nonconformance, that actually come from the Windchill quality management piece.
Again, more Windchill functionality here is also tied together in WT Parts, but these are your corrective and preventive actions.
Looking at the nonconformance piece – where you actually build and manufacture something, but it isn’t measuring out right. Or perhaps your drilled holes that are in the wrong place…or your part is the wrong dimension…or something to that extent.
Windchill Quality enables corrective actions you can take against these incidents to make sure that you’re not building parts to the wrong specifications or dealing with nonconformance. This helps you to take preventive action.
In other words, what steps are you going to take to make sure that you don’t make the same mistakes again? What are you going to do with the parts that you’ve already built?
That’s the second half of the closed loop change management process.
To truly explain how all the Windchill functionalities can be intertwined to create a true ‘digital thread’ – this article would go on for days.
Sure, you can learn about all the different parts and pieces individually, but my organization has a real, tight, concise methodology for doing this.
That’s why EAC Product Development Solutions is here to help. We know and understand what it takes to get your system stood up and in place to truly transform your organization.
Don’t leave your Windchill system with untapped potential. It’s time to make the most out of your money.