Properties and property types

“People Don’t Want Something Truly New, They Want the Familiar Done Differently.”  — Nir Eyal.

Excel is the best and the worst tool to manage Bill of Materials. However, the Excel paradigm of columns (attributes) and Rows (Items) is so comfortable and familiar that we selected this Paradigm as the foundational experience of OpenBOM.

While openBOM looks and feels like a spreadsheet to an engineer, it functions very differently. One of the key differences is the way we define data. In every spreadsheet, data is defined as columns (A, B, C, …). In OpenBOM, we reimagined this as a “Property”. You can add a property (column) to your BOM or Part Catalog. A property may be defined as one of several specific types: Text, Number, List, Reference, Checkbox, or Image. Properties help you to define and manage your data data in a more specific way.

Once a property is defined, you can use it again and again, in any BOM or Part Catalog.

In addition, we want you to be able to share BOMs and Catalogs easily with partners and vendors in your extended supply chain. To do that effectively, your BOM should use properties common between you (or your company) and supply chain. To that end, OpenBOM allows you to search through a list of properties defined by other users and re-use them in your BOMs. Your suppliers can do the same. Using common property definitions will make your BOMs and Catalogs much more reusable.

If you don’t want to share property names with others, you can create a private property table to hold these properties and share it only with your team or colleagues.

Let me be very clear – only the Property name and definition are shared… the DATA IS NEVER SHARED.

Read more about OpenBOM properties here.

Picture of BOM with Properties

Part Catalog with properties is much the same

Part Number is a unique Property

Part Number property is the Key property in BOMs and Part Catalogs.  It’s how we identify and retrieve data. Every BOM and Catalog MUST have Part Number or a property which was originally Part Number.

You can rename Part Number, but OpenBOM will still recognize it as a primary key for all BOMs. Below we have renamed Part Number to Item ID.  “Item ID” is an Alias for Part Number.  OpenBOM will still consider it the key to the BOM as its underlying property is, in fact, Part Number.

Now that we understand the mandatory Part Number property it is important to know that we can add existing properties OR define new properties directly while editing a BOM or Part Catalog. If defining a new Property you must define it as being one of these seven (7) Property Types: Number, Text, List, Multi-selection list, Reference, Image, Checkbox.

Here’s a brief description of each:

Part Number: A mandatory Property for any kind of BOM or Part Catalog (= Inventory).  The only exception is a BOM generated from Onshape. There the property “Name” acts exactly the same as “Part Number”.

Number: A simple numeric number, e.g. 3, 3.01, 1000

List: A list property provides a simple drop-down list of text-based choices to choose from where only one (1) selection is allowed

Multi-selection list: This property is a List Property where you can select multiple items from the list:

Reference: The Reference property serves as an external link. It is useful for referencing any external URL such as a catalog part (McMaster-Carr for example) and cloud file storage (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.).  Use reference link to point to documentation or installation instructions, etc. Very handy for manufacturing assembly instruction stored as a PDF on your company’s Google Drive.

Example: Create a Reference property named Doc Link, and define the cell for Deck as the link to the “CAD Drawing” of the Deck which is stored on your Google Drive”.

Image: The Image property provides a thumbnail image which can be embedded into a BOM (a jpg or png).

Special note regarding removing an image from an Image property: Cached images are saved in about 15 minutes. If you add and then wish to remove an image from your BOM, you’ll need to wait 15 minutes before it is permanently removed.

The following screen shots are of the process for defining and populating an Image property:

Add the property to your BOM or Part Catalog

Right-click the grid below the image property to add and/or edit an image:

Select the image click “Save” in the dialog box:

The image will load and display in the grid.

Here is an example of BOM with images from CAD systems

A short video of assigning an image to a cell:  


Checkbox: A Checkbox property is, intuitively enough, a “checkbox” which can be on or off. Very useful for approvals.