How Do You Explain a Bill of Materials?

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bill of materialsIf you’re like me, this holiday season you spent a lot of time at parties answering the inevitable “so what do you do?” question. Here at Arena we make a software tool for collaboratively managing BOMs and changes and sharing product information with the supply chain (Arena BOMControl). While that’s simple to understand for someone who knows manufacturing, it’s not obvious to someone who doesn’t. When I break it down and start explaining that our software manages bills of materials, the next step of course is to define what bill of materials (BOMs) are. And for that, I always try to have a good analogy on hand.

Over the years I’ve tried out many iterations of the BOM analogy but my favorite at the moment is the bill of materials as recipe and shopping list for a manufactured product. The BOM lists the quantity of the parts that go into making the product (the shopping list) and how the parts go together to make up the product’s major components (the recipe). Some people get it, but most give me a blank stare and nod their heads pretending to understand.

So help me out…do you have a better analogy? How do you explain the concept of a bill of materials to people who don’t work in manufacturing?

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