How to turn a BOM into a shared checklist for engineers and procurement teams

Speak to a manufacturing company and they are likely to assert the product cost is one of the most important considerations in manufacturing. There are many challenges in cost management and the pricing of a product. One challenge I hear about regularly relates to acquiring early visibility of the BOM. While usual that product design accounts for almost 60–70% of the product cost, making an assessment of your assembly costs is, I’ll venture to guess, very important.

One of my favorite books is “Checklist manifesto” by Atul Gawande. Coming from a completely different perspective, medicine, not manufacturing, Atul explains he is interested in a particular problem that afflicts virtually every aspect of the modern world: how professionals deal with the increasing complexity of their responsibilities. As we know, a Bill of Materials seems to be just a simple list of parts. But in fact, a BOM is part of a very complicated process and usually demand coordination between engineers, manufacturing engineers, supply chain and procurement teams.

Although the manufacturing challenges may differ between mechanical and electronic assemblies, there will likely be a need to share a BOM early in the design process. The Medium article by Chris Gammell speaks exactly about this problem, Quote early, Quote often. A passage worthy of note:

When was the last time you quoted a BOM? Probably around the time you were ready to go to production, right? How’d that work out for you?

Some of these problems are outside the realm of simply quoting the price on the parts you have listed on your BOM. It is also dependent upon getting the lifecycle information. It could rely on communicating directly with distributors and manufacturers. Or diving into product pages to determine if errata sheets are attached. But the quoting process is important in a similar way that checklists are important: they provide a mental trigger to think about all the things that seem consistent, but are not necessarily that way. In short- The quoting process acts as a sanity check on your design.

Which brings me to assert that creating an Excel checklist and maintaining it is hard work. Especially when it comes to a BOM. Excel and spreadsheets are usually the tool of choice for many engineers. It’s not because Excel is the best tool for the job, rather, it’s because it is available, easy and free. As one engineer once told me, if the average decision process takes maybe twenty minutes, the engineer will by default decide to use Excel.

openBOM may help by providing an easy tool that is immediately available and goes beyond what Excel offers.  The idea I’m suggesting is simple: use openBoM to turn your Excel BOM into a shareable checklist that will improve your ability to cost out a BOM within a distributed team.

Here’s a short video that shows you how to create a collaborative BOM.

Oleg, 17 May 2017