In a world of controlled, strict, non-flexible systems, people start to get creative. For some, it’s the crushing weight of a massively customized ERP system that somehow spread out to every part of the organization, for others circumventing “inconvenient” safety devices; when things need to get done, sometimes we have to take matters into our own hands. In the IT world, this is called “Shadow IT,” which is basically any app, software, or program that isn’t under the control (or even known to) the IT department. Users downloading freeware, buying their own software, using cloud services, etc. Even NASA has difficulty reining in their employees when it comes to using non-sanctioned software.
This behavior extends into the design and engineering office as well, perhaps moreso than other parts of an average organization. It’s in their nature to solve problems; it’s kind of the key attribute of an engineering job description! I can understand why – engineers live and breathe efficiency, and being over-encumbered by poorly designed systems is not efficient at all.
Case in point: the Bill of Materials (BOM). How many systems are controlling it? ERP? The design tool? PDM? Some home-grown custom system? By and large…no. Most work-in-process BOMs are done in spreadsheets. And why not? Spreadsheet applications are easy to use and share, don’t require much training, and don’t require six levels of approval to implement. Spreadsheets can even be automated with macros, making BOMs configurable and intelligent. Eventually all items do end up in the ERP, though typically not until late in a product’s/project’s/program’s lifecycle.
So, why not stay with the spreadsheets? What if someone edits those macros and an unknowing user doesn’t verify the end result? What if the file gets corrupted? How does the rest of the organization gain visibility to the latest changes? What ensures that the BOM is up to date with the design? Ultimately, the BOM should be controlled in a PLM system, much to chagrin of clever engineers everywhere. Here’s why.
Just as when the market moved from pencil drawings, french curves, vellums, and other manual drafting techniques to 2D CAD tools, and similarly 2D design to 3D modeling: Change. Yes, sketching a part is faster than creating the lines and circles – but CAD technology enables updates caused by change much faster than a manual process. The gains of going from 2D designs to 3D models are more staggering. “You mean one edit and it updates everywhere? Even the drawing?” Anecdotally, I had a customer say “With 2D, whenever the shop called, I was worried about what we messed up. Now, with 3D models, when the shop calls, I worry about what they messed up.”
Again, it’s about rate of change, propagation and validation of the change. Spreadsheets cannot do that (unless you have some really wicked cool macros).
With our PLM Analytics Benchmark, we can help your company to assess the nature of your BOM needs, as well as the 16 pillars of PLM. Let us know if we can be of service!