Product quality and consistency require documentation. A widely accepted best practice is to use a bill of materials (BOM) to detail all necessary components and instructions to manufacture products to spec and to ensure a company’s high standards. BOMs list raw materials, parts, subassemblies, and other components integral to a product’s manufacture, as well as other vital information about materials, such as the phase of production in which they’re used, vendors that supply them, and how to procure them.
This information is particularly useful to company departments, such as production and purchasing. However, a manufacturing BOM doesn’t provide engineers with all of the information they need. A more valuable form of documentation for design and R&D teams is an as-built bill of materials (aBOM).
In the past, BOM management was largely paper-based, with lists of materials and components recorded on a form or in a spreadsheet. Keeping BOMs updated with manual processes, especially for large manufacturers, is a job in itself, requiring hours of labor to update BOMs when the company introduces new product lines, changes vendors or suppliers, or requires tracking parts’ serial or lot numbers.
Manual BOM management processes, however, have serious limitations. When an engineer needs information from aBOM, it takes time to find a hard copy or the correct spreadsheet in a computer file. Moreover, engineering drawings may be filed separately from aBOMs, which can decrease a company’s response time when changes must be made. With manual documentation processes, it’s also important to recognize that an aBOM is only as accurate as the last update. A pending change may be in someone’s inbox rather than entered in a form or spreadsheet and shared company-wide.
Even if a manufacturer uses a computer-aided design (CAD) or enterprise resource management (ERP) solution for BOM management, their engineering team may still struggle with a disconnect between BOMs and factory operations. Additionally, even if teams throughout a company can access bills of materials, manual BOM management doesn't provide real-time information that can be useful for supply chain, contract manufacturing or other partners.
Software that generates and stores digital aBOMs ushered in a new era of document management – and lessened the impact outdated or inaccurate BOMs can have on productivity and product quality. Centralized management of BOMs enables updates in real time, creating a single source of truth for all stakeholders in the supply chain, both throughout the organization and with partners and suppliers.
Also, the right software solution can help an operation shift from BOM-centric documentation to aBOMs, providing all team members, including engineers and the entire supply chain, with easy and real-time access to the information they need. Digitalization of aBOM management also delivers:
Greater ability to comply with industry, regulatory, or customer standards and meet contract service levels
Traceability and documentation for audits
Enhanced security of IP and data stored in a protected cloud solution rather than printed and used onsite
Real-time material planning and MRP
A modern, digitized aBOM management process is also key to supporting innovation and future growth. As manufactured equipment is increasingly used as a part of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) or other connected environments, the aBOM will be a valuable tool in helping engineers connect hardware or other manufactured products to wider networks or intelligent operations. Data from the aBOM can then contribute to digital threads that enable bidirectional communications. This freely flowing data can enable automation, product lifecycle management from design to customer service, and coordination of production with supply chain activities.
The data documented in aBOMs has always had the potential to ensure product quality, minimize production errors, reduce waste, take products to market faster, and optimize service technician effectiveness. A BOM management solution unlocks that potential by making information on materials, components, and design easily accessible to all stakeholders who need them and, finally, creating a real-time system of centralized management that puts everyone on the same page.