Many years ago, I was a junior PCB designer learning the ropes of the trade in a large company. To help me understand the entire product production process, my boss took me on a tour of the manufacturing floor. The people that I met there were not rude per say, but I noticed a subtle attitude of, “Oh, you’re one of them” that puzzled me. The reason for their annoyance I found out later was that they would routinely suffer delays because of bad information in the bill of materials that came from our design department.
It was not fun then to have a target painted on my back, nor is any more enjoyable today, yet inter-departmental communication problems still exist. Engineering gets frustrated when the parts they want are not approved for purchase, while purchasing gets frustrated when the parts they researched and ordered are not in the final bill of materials. Manufacturing gets frustrated when the BOM doesn’t match the parts that they have on hand, and everyone is frustrated at the delays getting a product to market because of the communication breakdowns.
Fortunately, there are now PCB BOM management tools that can help resolve these communication problems between departments.
Manually distributed documentation can result in communication breakdowns
Communication problems with manually created BOMs
In a traditional product development cycle, the bill of materials is created in engineering in conjunction with the development of the design. Usually, the BOM is developed in a spreadsheet and this document evolves as the part requirements change during the design process.
At a point determined by the project management, a copy of the BOM is distributed to the different departments or personnel involved in the product development. This is a preliminary copy of the BOM that will get updated and replaced as the design continues to be worked on. Purchasing will research the parts for cost and availability, and manufacturing will confirm that the parts are ordered, stocked, and that they won’t pose any difficulties for the assembly line.
A manually created BOM that is continually updated and physically distributed is vulnerable to communication breakdown problems. Here are some of the possible pitfalls that this process can fall into:
Word of mouth: One common scenario of this problem is when an engineer makes a value change to a part and verbally asks a co-worker to record the change on the BOM spreadsheet. A verbal request like this can be misinterpreted, recorded incorrectly, or even forgotten. Mistakes like this may not show up until much later in the design cycle causing extra time for a design correction.
Version control: Another communication problem can occur with how updates to a manually created BOM are handled. If versions are incorrectly tracked on the BOM, important part decisions may be made from outdated information. This could cause manufacturing delays to find and correct the problem, or even circuit failure on the assembled board if left undetected.
Time: Waiting for updated preliminary BOMs to be distributed takes time. As the amount of preliminary BOMs increases with the evolution of the design, the time taken by waiting for the next distribution adds up as well.
Delivery failures: If the BOM distribution list is incomplete, or staff changes are not accounted for, the BOM may not get delivered to key personnel. Action items such as part requests and part orders may not get completed in a timely manner causing a slowdown on the assembly line.
BOM management tools can improve inter-departmental communications
Communication solutions with PCB BOM management tools
BOM management tools can provide the solution to many communication problems. By virtue of being “online” with your coworkers, you will see real-time changes and actions with the BOM.
When a part change is requested, the requester can see the change happen real-time on their own workstation. This will allow them to confirm that the change is correct. Better yet, the requester can make their own change in the BOM tools without taking someone else’s time ensuring that the change is correct.
Version control will no longer be a problem as the parts list in the BOM will be “live”. As parts are added, changed, or eliminated in the design, the parts list in the BOM will be appropriately updated in real-time. Since every team member in the product design process will have access to the same real-time information, a manually created BOM to track the latest changes is no longer needed.
You will save all the time that currently gets wasted while waiting for preliminary BOMs to be distributed. Instead of team members breaking their concentration to work on other projects while waiting for the next version of the BOM to be delivered, they will have access to BOM updates real-time.
And lastly, manually delivered BOM failures will be a thing of the past. PCB BOM management tools are accessible to every team member, whether they are in engineering, purchasing or manufacturing. This means that instead of waiting for a new version of the BOM to be delivered, everyone will already have immediate access to the same information.
Do these PCB BOM management tool solutions sound like they would be helpful to you and your team? Then Altium’s BOM tools might be the solution you are looking for. If so, find out more information by talking to an expert at Altium.
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