Friday, April 27, 2012

The BOM, the BOI, and PLM

There has been a lot of talk lately about Bills of Material (BOMs), and just how this important construct should be handled within a large organization. My fellow blogger Oleg has been obsessed with this topic lately, and he has several recent blog posts: PLM, Multiple BOMs and Cross Functional Teams, BOM: Overstructured, Understructured or lean, Seven Rules Towards Single Bill of Material. I have been asked by several people what I think, and I thought it would be easiest to post this blog to explain some of my feelings on this engaging topic.

First of all, the challenge to accurately communicate technical product information to all levels of an organization usually falls on a Bill of Material (BOM). The product BOM is often started in engineering (at least in discrete industries) and propagated to various groups within the company who modify the information for their own specific needs. Sometimes, a group will start their own BOM strictly for their own use with little regard for anyone else. Some groups have an actual BOM tool, while others use an Excel spreadsheet (after all, Microsoft Excel is the #1 PLM solution in the world). Thus, we end up with many BOMs and virtually no connection from one to the other.

Of course, the BOM above does not tell you everything. Far from it! This type of BOM is actually a construct from an earlier day when we did not have a strong PDM solution to assist us. When we start to dig a little, the BOM gets very complicated; people cannot manage this kind of complexity properly without help. Each of the parts (items) above has a host of important information that needs to be tracked, updated, and analyzed to create the final product.

With a strong PDM solution, we can track all the information that is needed to support various organization.  A PDM solution allows us to manage a much more comprehensive Bill of Information (BOI). The BOI not only includes the product structures from engineering, it also includes all the information needed to get the product from design to manufacturing and out to the customer. This BOI provides a strong foundation for all groups to work together and collaborate during the product design process, and beyond. The additional tools found within various PLM solutions allow us to collaborate and share this information as needed.

When a company relies on a BOI, information can be added, and various views of the BOI can be generated depending on who needs to use it. Another nice attribute is that a BOI can be used in any industry to communicate product information: recipes, formulas, patterns, simulations, etc. can all be represented and shared using a comprehensive BOI supported by PLM.

I know what you are saying, "In a perfect world we would have one BOI, but this is not Narnia!"

Yes, you are right. This is not Narnia, and I am not Prince Caspian, as far as you know.

But, the effort to connect your many BOMs using a BOI will be effort well spent. The BOI will still need to integrate to other systems, and pass data between various groups, but the concept is still sound: how can we put information into one comprehensive BOI in order to support our work. Starting down this path will pay handsome dividends in the long run.

What do you think?



  1. How would you aggregate multiple BOMS into a BOI?

    Would you have any BOM's in PLM? or just a BOI? from a structure standpoint how does a BOI differ from a BOM?

  2. Ronny,

    Thanks for the question, and it's a good one!

    In a perfect world, you would only have one BOI and everyone would contribute to it, and view it as needed for each domain. However, in practice, most companies will still have multiple BOMs within PLM. The challenge is to take a look at all the BOMs you have today, and look at where you can consolidate information into one BOM that includes a more robust collection of information, a BOI.

    The structure of the BOI is like a BOM, it just contains more linkages to more information. Each node/part/item has more connections to information, such as customer requirements, analysis results, supplier information, packaging info, etc. This provides a very robust collection of information that can be viewed in various ways by the people in your company that need to see and act upon the information.

    It takes a while to get to this point for most companies, but it is worth it.

    Thanks for sharing.

    - Jim

  3. Jim,
    Past few years, I have been part of the project to consolidate all business information and link it to Part. I can easily relate it to your concept of BOI.

    Objectives have been to eliminate duplication , increase accuracy, reduce search time and overall increase the trust in data quality.

    Few years into the project .. we have made progress, but are still far away from objectives.

    Reality .. first complexity is overwhelming, standardization is hard. Excel is hard to displace as people have so many ways to tweek it for subtle variations that can happen during product development ...
    Plus mindset change moving from Drawing centric world to Part centric world is a challenge as well.


    1. Mahesh,

      Thanks for your comment. I am glad to see that your company is willing to tackle this challenging problem.

      As you have seen, this is not an easy problem to solve. Over time it will become easier: vendors are providing better tools to tackle it, and users will be more inclined to adopt it. Eventually you will get away from MS Excel (it is the #1 PLM tool in the world, after all). Keep making the changes you can, and they will make a difference.

      You are not alone. There are very few, if any, companies in any industry who have completely solved this problem.


  4. Hi, just looking for an easy BOM software in order to organice parts and products and calculate their costs and final prices.

    I've been searching a lot without success.


  5. Rafael,

    Have you thought about something like Aras PLM (, or Arena Solutions (, or even Autodesk PLM 360 ( I think these are all good choices for simple BOM management.


  6. Jim,

    In your experience do the supply chain guys have access to the PLM? Is the PLM used to manage data about outsourced parts and about the raw materials in those parts? How does the PLM relate to the ERP or MRP system? They too have BOMs.



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