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Bill of Materials Inventory Management and the Benefits of an Online Parts Request Documentation Systems

Created: October 6, 2017
Updated: September 25, 2020

Closeup of hand giving money to another hand

I once asked a family member to borrow some money to use as a down payment. His response included a counter-proposal that I didn’t understand, so I let it pass. Unfortunately by not understanding his answer to my request, I missed out on an even better opportunity than what I had initially asked for. 

That exchange has stayed in my mind as an example of how important clear communication is. In our world of PCB design, the need for clear communication is essential, especially when requesting new parts for a design. Yet these requests can get garbled, delayed, or even lost when the part request documentation fails to be distributed properly. Engineers can also request parts that are not available or are from suppliers that are not on the approved vendor list. All of these problems can result in costly redesigns and slow down manufacturing. Fortunately, there is the bill of materials inventory management tools available that can help you solve part request problems.

The traditional method of submitting a new part request

Parts have been requested by design teams for as long as printed circuit boards have been designed. As a PCB design is developed, parts are added to the schematic and connected together to complete the circuitry. If the design requires a new part that has not been used before, the following steps are usually taken:

  1. The engineering team researches part vendors to find the part that they need.

  2. Once the part is found, engineering submits a new part request in the form of a spreadsheet, E-mail, or paper document to the purchasing and CAD departments.

  3. Purchasing researches the part for cost and availability and assigns a company part number to it.

  4. The CAD department uses part data gathered by engineering to develop preliminary library parts for schematic and layout.

  5. Upon confirmation of availability, the approved part request is sent back to engineering.

  6. Library parts, schematics, and layout are all updated with the approved part information.

There are many steps in this process, any one of which can cause problems with the part request.

Worker exhausted from too much part request documentation
Problems with the traditional part request system

Problems associated with the traditional part request system 

There are a number of problems that can arise with the traditional method of requesting parts. Two of the worst of these problems are requesting new parts from unapproved vendors, and requesting parts that are unavailable for purchase. 

In order to find the exact part that they need, engineering may look at part suppliers that are not qualified as approved vendors for the company. Even though the requested part is the perfect solution for the design, the part vendor itself may not be acceptable for business reasons that are not obvious to engineering. Also, a new part may be offered by an approved vendor, but it may not be available for use yet, or it may not be available in the quantities required to support your manufacturing needs. 

Qualifying a new vendor or finding a substitute to replace unavailable parts takes time. The design may have progressed to the point where a redesign to accommodate a new replacement part will seriously impact the design schedule. 

Another problem that can occur is a failure in the distribution of the part request documentation. This can happen because: 

1)    Part requests on paper can get accidentally lost or destroyed. We used to laugh at the old excuse of “the dog ate my homework”, but the reality of missing paperwork is just not that funny.

2)    Documentation personnel that is absent from the office can cause delays in the creation or delivery of part requests.

3)    Incorrectly addressed documents or Emails can cause a part request to end up in the wrong location.

4)    Part request files can get lost due to network or hardware mismanagement. 

Any one of these issues can derail a traditional part request system. This in turn causes the CAD department to be late in finalizing the part, which adds delays to finishing the design in engineering. All of these delays can continue to snowball downhill until finally the manufacturing department is affected causing the product delivery date to slip.

Worker using a tablet at a table with colleagues
Part requests using a bill of the material inventory management system

Making part requests through a bill of materials inventory management system 

The problems in a traditional parts request system are no longer an issue with the part request functions of a bill of materials inventory management system. 

Engineering and purchasing part research are tied together: Your engineers will be able to work together with your purchasing agents to immediately start a new vendor qualification process. Additionally, your engineering will have real-time access to approved vendors and parts lists to know which vendors are qualified and which parts are available for use.

Distribution of part requests is all contained within the bill of materials inventory management system: The aggravation from delayed or lost part request documentation will no longer be a problem in your design cycle. All personnel will have access to the part requests through the inventory management system. This will allow them to work as soon as a part request is filed instead of waiting for documentation to be distributed.

Part data is immediately available to all personnel: Your engineering, CAD, and manufacturing departments will all have real-time access to all part request data sheets. This will allow all personnel to work with confirmed vendor part data eliminating the need for temporary or “preliminary” parts that require updating later on.

There are a lot of problems that can arise from using the traditional method of requesting new parts for a PCB design. Engineering may not know that the parts that they are requesting are not available for purchase, or that the part supplier may not be accepted as an approved company vendor. Then, the part requests themselves may get delayed or lost depending on how they are distributed to different departments. All of these problems however can be resolved by using the online parts request functions of a bill of materials inventory management system.    

Bill of materials inventory management tools can help improve interdepartmental communication during the design cycle. By taking the problems out of the traditional method of requesting new parts, your design team members can focus on design rather than managing documentation. Altium Designer’s BOM management tools can help you with this. Find out more information by talking to an expert at Altium.

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