Discrete manufacturers, to state the obvious, are under more pressure than ever to uncover and exploit every possibility for increasing productivity, without compromising quality or time to market. And all that pressure derives from an environment in which the complexity of the overall manufacturing environment is constantly being amplified. Design cycles are compressed to meet customer requirements. Supply chains are more and more widely dispersed. Governmental regulatory environments grow continuously more burdensome at the global, national, state – and even municipal – levels. User-driven product requirements drive manufacturers toward “mass-customization,” to deliver on the demand for uniquely personalized product experiences. Even as technology advances our ability to deliver high-quality products with speed and scale, the process is less straightforward than ever.
Mastering this complexity is a strategic imperative: “imperative,” meaning that failure is not an option. You need to aggressively but effectively exploit every technique, process, and technology available to protect and advance your competitive advantage. For the leaders who steer, influence, or leverage data from their company’s manufacturing operations, the manner in which the product’s bill of materials (BOM) is managed is critical. And for those targeting the best possible manufacturing outcomes, including productive cross-enterprise collaboration, faster time-to-market, and uncompromising quality, a holistic, parts-driven, and fully digital BOM management strategy is the bullseye.
To clearly understand the benefits of this approach, a quick comparison and contrast of “traditional,” drawing-based product definition and parts-centric product definition can illuminate its weaknesses relative to the preferred parts-centric approach.
A drawing-centered approach is largely a “process hangover,” based on decades of embedded habits, preceding even the ascendance of fully digital systems. It’s inherently unsuited to today’s highly competitive manufacturing markets. The manual and largely disconnected nature of drawing-based BOM management introduces significant risk, impairs product development, relies on large amounts of tedious, error-prone, non-value-added manual work, and in general impedes digital transformation initiatives.
To begin with, drawings themselves are very complex, and when updated, those changes need to be propagated downstream. Until that process is complete, and unless it’s thorough, stakeholders who rely on that data are hamstrung, and can’t do their jobs effectively – or at all.
Meanwhile, processes that are underway when changes are made may continue uncorrected, resulting in issues like parts ordered erroneously, high inventory and missed release dates. When critical teams, working in a siloed manner, are working from different versions of the same drawing, the product vision becomes incoherent - by definition. Needless to say, these challenges to drawing-centered BOM management are compounded by legacy systems that may or may not be well-connected, and the heterogeneous data types that flow across them.
What manufacturers need in order to move beyond old habits, and toward a successful, modern BOM management practice, is a part-centric approach. In this time-proven paradigm, the bill of materials itself becomes the basis for a holistic, fully coherent digital product definition. It allows for real-time, cross-enterprise BOM management, facilitating collaboration and eliminating much of the process friction that characterizes drawing-based approaches.
When the most current version of the product’s definition is accurately communicated and simultaneously available to all stakeholders, tangible and profitable improvements quickly result, and are compounded across the entire product lifecycle, from concept to full production:
The benefits of a parts-centric approach to BOM management go well beyond the purview of this article and will be addressed in more detail in future installments of this blog. But also consider the intangible benefits that accrue when every stakeholder is completely confident in the currency and accuracy of the product data with which they’re working. Ideas flow more freely, and teams and individuals collaborate more energetically. Fueled by that energy, the product itself, defined by the digital BOM, stewarded through production and into the market by its stakeholders, can exceed expectations, and truly thrive.
Mark Taber is Vice President of Marketing. In his current role, Mark is focused on helping manufacturers drive digital transformation, with a foundation of PLM and the digital thread, within the enterprise and across enterprises.
Mark has more than 30 years of experience working in the areas of process automation, application integration, cyber security, and development. Prior to PTC, Mark was CEO of Active Endpoints (acquired by Informatica), a process automation firm. A graduate of the Wharton School, Mark currently lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.