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Why is it so hard to move a BOM from engineering to manufacturing?

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Theory into practice

As closely as manufacturing and engineering work together, sometimes it feels like they are worlds apart.

Engineers are told to design something, manufacturers are told to make something.

Engineering opens the design funnel, manufacturing closes it.

Engineers wrestle multiple theoretical possibilities into a realistic design, manufacturers make that design a physical reality.

When you really think about it, manufacturing and engineering are asked to work in parallel while being completely at odds philosophically. Their differing educations, day-to-day tasks and departmental goals ultimately cause them to form very different beliefs about how things should get done. So is it any surprise that there are often disconnects between engineering and production—particularly when it comes to managing the bill of materials (BOM)?

During the design phase, the cost of change is low

When engineers begin to design a BOM in their CAD tool, the possibilities can seem endless. As they move through iterations to find the perfect solution, dealing with a restrictive change process can be extremely frustrating.

During this part of the design process the cost of change is very low, and so for engineers, the ability to iterate quickly and keep the creativity flowing is key. Changes to the design—however major—have nowhere near the impact they will have several hops later in the process when the entire supply chain is involved and real products are being molded and extruded.

For manufacturers, software changes have real consequences

On the other hand, once a BOM crosses over to the manufacturing side, actions taken in the software program actually map to actions in the physical world. When you change order quantities, or mess around with the components in the BOM, this can potentially cost your organization large sums of money. A plan to build 100k of Product A using xyz materials actually translates into those materials becoming a product—with connected inventory usage and labor costs. This focus on the present and the tangible is really what drives manufacturers to care so much about keeping things on track, and making sure changes are managed methodically and thoroughly.

Walking the line between engineering and manufacturing

With the differences in philosophy between engineering and manufacturing, there is a natural tension between these two groups—from the way each group manages product data, to the way each group prefers to handoff the BOM. But is this tension irreconcilable? While engineers often are frustrated by document control, manufacturers can be frustrated with an engineer’s desire to work and rework a product, pushing up dangerously close to production timelines.

Given  our application’s position in the engineering and manufacturing process, we see both sides of the story in every single customer who joins the Arena community. Because of our connection to both production and design, I am interested in hearing how each group has managed the engineering/manufacturing relationship.

I’d like to know—how have you come to consensus on how change revisions and the BOM itself should be managed?

If you have a particularly interesting story, send me an email—I would love to interview you for future articles.

About the Author

Alex Gammelgard

Alex managed social media marketing and communications at Arena from 2011 to 2012. Although coming in fresh to the manufacturing industry, Alex is married to an engineer and is well ...

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