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.
Part II – (You can read part 1 here) Evolving your BoM strategy, tools, and abilities. “EBoM vs. MBoM” transforms into “EBoM integrates with MBoM.” This integration includes associativity to one another, time saving tools, elimination of error prone manual steps & more.
Imagine eliminating the common disjointed processes, additional time, and error prone manual steps involved in the creation of downstream BoMs from Engineering into Manufacturing, Production and Service management.
Concepts & examples such as Manufacturing Bill of Materials (MBoM) are shown below, all under one system, integrated & associated, and created with a single click. Then they’re easily edited to meet downstream BoM needs.
BoM creation can be streamlined & improved by associatively creating downstream BoMs (S or M or other) and eventually, connecting them to your ERP system. For now, we’ll focus on the first step of this business transformation concept; the creation of the second, or downstream M or SBoM, starting with a simple EBoM example, created in minutes, and easily viewed & tracked.
Who should be involved in this topic at your company? Ideally, your Configuration Manager role should be leading or heavily involved in this process.
The starting point & tool is PTCs Windchill and your willingness to change & improve.
Once your CAD data is ready to check into Windchill, there is an option (check box) to auto-associate the EBoM to a downstream BoM such as an MBoM. It is a 1:1 relationship for starters. Options can branch out from here into many CM (Configuration Management) directions. Such as multi-level BoM management, uses, visualization and more.
Once created, you can manipulate & edit the default 1:1 downstream BoM to your needs; adding bulk items, manufacturing specific sub assemblies, (build throughs) even new service end items. You can also flatten out an EBoM to meet assembly or production needs. BoM items such as adhesive, lubricant, paint or coatings, packaging items, all things that typically are not on an EBoM, can and do belong on the M or SBoM.
If this fits your company’s needs? consider using Windchill’s auto-associate feature.
This article covers a couple examples. If this is not deep enough…here are even more tools to consider. Topics such as creating associated manufacturing instructions, work instructions, work plans and more. Change Management is shown as reference only, it is an optional element of Windchill for another blog.
There are many options to this topic, these are common examples that fit a lot of needs and is considered a starting point.
1stexample shows all BoM & change components all connected in one system vs. manually done in silo fashion, which is industry’s most common method today. These examples are shown in PTCs Windchill reference viewer tool, which ties all related objects into view for easy visibility with just a few clicks.
- 1. EBoM structure (highlighted in green)
- 2. Change requests, notices and tasks (highlighted in red)
- 3. MBoM structure (highlighted in blue) with their own, or connected Change Management Requests, Notices & Tasks
2ndexample shows an EBoM, SBoM (Service Kit in this example), with a saleable end item service kit, as well as components for service or manufacturing BoMs. It also shows Changes, these can also be created, edited, routed, approved or rejected, and even include the SBoM if need be.
Please connect with EAC to learn more, to discover your company’s transformation opportunities with an assessment, maybe see a demo, or attend a webinar. The goal is to help your company transform how you design, manufacture, connect to and service your products.
I’d like to start off by clarifying the difference between eBoM vs eBoM. Most companies developing products have both an eBoM and mBoM.
- Engineering Bill of Materials (eBoM) — as designed
- Manufacturing Bill of Materials (mBoM) — as shipped
You may not agree, many don’t see it this clearly. The industry does, and therefore, some software tools have more ability than you may know. But, I guarantee, if you overlay these two elements onto what you are doing for Bill of Materials (BoMs), whether in Engineering, or in Manufacturing, or in Production, you’ll see the clarity of these two simple elements rise to the surface.
Definition of eBoM and mBoM:
eBoMs are created in engineering, are typically driven from the CAD tool, and are usually centric to the final assemblies list of parts or components that make up the as designed or eBoM.
mBoMs will contain, or be ‘driven’ by the eBoM. MBoMs make up the ‘end item’, or product as shipped. Of course, the eBoM, or ‘parts list’…the eBoM requires additional things like shipping containers, crates, peanuts, or packing foam, plastic bags for accessories, power cords, or items necessary to complete the product that is not defined on the eBoM.
Manual processes for eBoMs & mBoMs
In the drawing board days, we often communicated this detail as a table on the final assembly drawing. Sometimes as many sheets attached or referred to on the final assembly drawing. Hopefully, you’ve evolved beyond that! If not, that’s okay, there is hope. Unfortunately, many still use this legacy approach and are still creating (painfully) this table on their CAD assembly drawings. Others may be manually forming them in spreadsheet software.
The next step, and pain point, you must re-enter or get the data into your ERP/MRP tool. Either manually, or via an importation, it is error-prone. What if changes occur? But, that never happens, right?? Ha.
How much time does your organization spend on these tasks? How about errors because of changes? Do you have the role of Configuration Manager defined?
The task of creating the mBoM from the eBoM usually has many manual and painful disjointed steps. Often involving exporting out of one tool, into another, but only if you are evolved enough — as I stated earlier, many are not this evolved, but have the vision to do so…maybe you’ve already made a connection from your data management tool to your ERP/MRP system?
PLM Systems like PTC Windchill help you manage your BoMs
EAC can help you form this vision, and guide you to a better way of understanding this topic in the context of your organization. We strongly believe there is a better way to develop products – and managing eBoMs and mBoMs is just one part of doing it better.
PTC Windchill can drive the eBoM into the mBoM or vice versa. It has the out of the box ability to be the tool for the Configuration Manager roles in your organization. Options and variants are another use case you’ll see in a future blog topic.
Organizations have found ways to leverage PLM systems that transform their product development process and defeat pain points like the disjointed processes that come with manual creation of the mBoM from the eBoM.
Take a look at the Aberdeen PLM Research revealing that organizations with connected PLM see a 22% increase in engineering productivity and 21% improvement.
If you’re looking for a PLM solution such as PTC Windchill, our Product Development System Services (PDSS) team can help implement the software within your organization.