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How to turn BOM into shared checklist for your engineers and procurement team

Speak to any manufacturing company and they are likely to mention that product cost is one of the most important considerations in manufacturing. After all, most manufacturing companies are for profit. There are many challenges in cost management and the pricing of a product. One challenge relates to acquiring early visibility of the BOM. While it’s usual that product design accounts for almost 60–70% of the product cost, making an assessment of your assembly costs is very important.

One of my favorite books is “Checklist manifesto” by Atul Gawande. Coming from a completely different perspective, medicine, not manufacturing, Atul explains he is interested in a particular problem that afflicts virtually every aspect of the modern world: how professionals deal with the increasing complexity of their responsibilities. As we know, a Bill of Materials seems to be just a simple list of parts. But in fact, a BOM is part of a very complicated process and environment demanding coordination between engineers, manufacturing engineers and supply chain/ procurement teams.

The challenges might be slightly different between mechanical and electronic assemblies. But a challenge likely to exist is the ability to share a BOM early in the design process. The Medium article by Chris Gammell speaks exactly about this problem, Quote early, Quote often. Read the article and follow Chris’ blog if you’re in electronic manufacturing; it provides some good ideas of how to check for prices. My favorite passage is the following:

When was the last time you quoted a BOM? Probably around the time you were ready to go to production, right? How’d that work out for you?

Some of these problems are outside the realm of simply quoting the price on the parts you have listed on your BOM. It is also dependent upon getting the lifecycle information. It could rely on communicating directly with distributors and manufacturers. Or diving into product pages to determine if errata sheets are attached. But the quoting process is important in a similar way that checklists are important: they provide a mental trigger to think about all the things that seem consistent, but are not necessarily that way. In short- The quoting process acts as a sanity check on your design.

Creating an Excel checklist and maintaining it is hard work. Especially when it comes to Bill of Materials. Excel and spreadsheets are usually the tool of choice for many engineers I know. It’s not because it is the best tool for the job, rather, it’s because it is available, easy and free. As one engineer once told me, if the average decision process takes maybe twenty minutes, then the engineer will by default decide to use Excel.

At openBOM we are looking to solve the problem of how to provide an easy tool that is immediately available and goes beyond what Excel offers. Such as no installation, practically no configuration, etc. You work around two simple concepts: inventory and BOM. The BOM is the most important; you can import any spreadsheet and start tracking checklist and tasks for your design. The second is inventory (I will cover that in another post).

Here is a short video explaining how you can turn your Excel BOM into an online shareable checklist in a matter of minutes:

One big benefits of using openBoM is tracking all history of changes (in an upcoming blog post, I will discuss how to create a change report).

Conclusions. Creating an interactive checklist in Excel is hard. openBOM gives you an easy way to create your online checklist with all the necessary BOM components, customize it, and track history and revisions. It can simplify your work and help you design and manufacture better products. Share your BOM checklists with me and tell me about your biggest BOM management problems — I’d love to help.

Best, Oleg @ openbom.com

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