Five Steps To Ensure Good BOM Management And Streamlined Product Development

Effective collaboration across teams and partners is critical for every product company; however, achieving this goal can be challenging.

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Scott ReedyScott Reedy

The rapid evolution of technology and outsourced manufacturing has created new opportunities, as well as new challenges and risks. You don’t need to look far to see how poor product design and development processes can impact companies and their customers. In 2016, according to an article on CNN, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 battery issues caused not only explosions and recalls, but also created public relations challenges for the company. Revealingly, Underwriters Laboratories concluded that both design and manufacturing issues contributed to the battery problems—with design issues linked to two key supply chain partners.

The convergence of mechanical, electrical, and software design in the “Internet of Things” (IoT) era is forcing multidisciplinary design cooperation. Getting high-quality products to market today requires consistent and clear collaboration among a wide range of systems and distributed product teams.

Companies demand tighter control of their intellectual property (IP), which, for product companies, is
encapsulated in the bill of materials (BOM). BOMs define everything necessary to manufacture
products and comprise the core building blocks of the product record. However, BOMs are too often managed across multiple tools by different engineering disciplines and manufacturing teams. This fragmented view leads to disconnected development processes, which frequently result in product launch delays, quality issues, manufacturing mistakes, and costly scrap and rework to correct product issues.

Effective collaboration across teams and partners is critical for every product company; however, achieving this goal can be challenging. Contract manufacturing partners (CMs) and their distributed supply chains must work in concert with the original product or design manufacturer (OEM or ODM) early and throughout the entire product lifecycle. To gain and retain a competitive advantage, everyone responsible for delivering any portion of the product must work off the same page. This means having a single, secure place for all things product related. A centrally controlled and complete product record (BOMs and all associated data) can be the difference between leading the market and going out of business.

Here are five key ways to improve BOM management and streamline product development:

No. 1 - Centralize control of the BOM, product record, and change processes

Because design and manufacturing teams use many different systems unique to their job roles, it’s important to have an agnostic approach to aggregate the entire product record into a single system for simplified collaboration. A centralized BOM provides better control, while streamlining connections between product information and people to accelerate development processes. Centralized control involves more than having a single system to store product information. It creates the necessary backbone for effective product development by helping connect all related product and process information. It helps with change processes (e.g., change requests, change orders, deviations) by linking key product record information. And it eliminates confusion by ensuring teams have a single place to create and change all aspects of the product design.

No. 2 - Provide secure access and accountability for internal and external teams

It seems like common sense, but accessing and sharing product information securely between internal and external teams is a must. Many organizations still use outdated methods of collaboration that will not scale with highly dispersed teams. Access should be easy for users, quick to provision and administer, and secure. Product companies should begin from a restrictive model and then allow only specific access for external partners to the components of the BOM the partners need in order to source or build. This helps ensure integrity of the design and manufacturing process, as well as mitigates risk of compromise from being shared with too broad of an audience. Additionally, companies need to ensure audit trails are created whenever someone accesses the product record to eliminate “finger pointing” and increase accountability between internal and external teams.

No. 3 - Understand team needs and requirements

Sit down with your team and understand their needs and requirements throughout the entire product lifecycle. Be careful not to evaluate only one team's needs in managing design. It is important that electrical, mechanical, and software design teams provide input to ensure buy-in and that all requirements are understood before a project begins. Product marketing, design and supply partners, quality, and operations should typically be represented in your cross-functional product development efforts. In addition, if you practice any “design for” efforts, such as design for manufacturing (DFM), your product teams will also include operations, service, and support. Change will happen throughout any product development lifecycle, and it’s imperative that cross-functional collaboration is the primary objective as the teams start creating, importing, sharing, changing, comparing, and approving items laid out in the BOM.

No. 4 - Improve collaboration with formal and informal communication

While documented, formal communication is essential in the development and delivery of any product (we need to understand what we are doing, how we are doing it, and what the measure for success looks like), there are times when less formal and more flexible methods of collaboration are needed. The ability to provide input around items, assemblies, BOMs, and other product information outside formal change and product processes enhances product development, and ultimately accelerates NPI processes. At the end of the day, we are all human—oftentimes those informal, human moments lead to the greatest collaboration and breakthroughs. Your processes should recognize and make informal product collaboration easy for the teams, but also within the overall context of the product record for future leverage in product efforts, traceability, and team continuity.

No. 5 - Perform proactive health and risk assessments on BOM components

Complex product companies and their supply chain partners need to eliminate risks for sourcing market-available and environmentally compliant components. The ability to identify and source parts that meet compliance is critical to reduce product costs and get products delivered on time and on budget. Providing component lifecycle and compliance information to the right people throughout the supply chain is critical to ensure quality, reduce costs, and avoid unnecessary shipping delays.

As Albert Einstein said, “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.” While product development and manufacturing continue to get increasingly complex, following best practices for product development improves access, control, and visibility to streamline product development in a highly distributed product development world.

Scott Reedy is the Senior Director of Marketing for Arena Solutions.

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