Why You Might Not be Maximizing Your Bill of Materials Template

Sophia Barnett

Technical and Content Writer

May 15, 2024


Manufacturing and product development require precise, flexible management tools. Traditionally, companies have used a bill of materials template to organize materials, components, and assemblies for production. While a BOM template is foundational for managing manufacturing processes, ensuring it works efficiently and consistently for you is crucial.

Static documents and spreadsheets, like Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets, have significant limitations in today’s manufacturing environments. If a BOM is not digitally linked to dynamic software, it can lead to issues that affect a product’s entire lifecycle. Hardware engineers often face problems such as inaccurate or incomplete data entries, mislabeled part numbers, and incorrect quantities, leading to costly procurement and manufacturing errors.

Static files, such as an Excel BOM spreadsheet, lack real-time updates and collaborative capabilities, making it difficult for engineers to synchronize changes across different departments. This inefficiency can result in poor communication and misalignment with stakeholders.

The right PLM software goes far beyond outdated static documents by enhancing the integration of BOM management throughout the entire product development lifecycle, ensuring all parties have access to the right BOM data revisions.

This article explores the impact of PLM on managing your bill of materials, highlighting how the software surpasses traditional static templates in enhancing accuracy, efficiency, and collaboration across teams. Read to the end to compare static BOMs and PLM systems directly side by side.

What is PLM Software?

Product lifecycle management software (PLM) centralizes all product data on a single platform, enabling real-time data synchronization, automated workflows, and comprehensive analytics. This functionality ensures engineers always have an up-to-date bill of materials, simplifying decision-making and enhancing product development management.

PLMs boost accuracy and control across the development process by replacing outdated methods like spreadsheets and static documents.  The system provides real-time updates by integrating directly with CAD software and manufacturing sites, streamlining procurement with current component availability and pricing, and aligning material sourcing with production demands.

Modern PLMs enhance collaboration by ensuring all development participants, including remote teams and external partners, access the latest, accurate data. Unlike ERP systems, which often lack tools for managing engineering change orders and file handling, PLMs have features for tracking BOM revisions and changes.

PLM software facilitates precise design adjustments and part comparisons, greatly accelerating time to market and ensuring regulatory compliance across geographically dispersed teams.

The role of a bill of materials in product development

What is a bill of materials?

A bill of materials (BOM) is the backbone of any manufacturing process. A BOM outlines every element required to bring a product to life, including raw materials, individual components, and subassemblies, detailing the exact quantity needed. BOMs can also include instructions on how to source and utilize these materials.

Precision in a BOM is crucial; even a small error can lead to significant delays and cost overruns. More than just a parts list, a bill of materials serves as a detailed blueprint for assembly, pivotal in cost estimation, procurement planning, and risk management. A thorough and precise BOM acts as a safeguard, ensuring every necessary component is ready and available, helping avoid such setbacks.

Bill of materials example

For a BOM example, let’s deconstruct a bill of materials for a computer, including all the parts and components required to assemble the finished product. A BOM for a basic computer might include the following items:

  • Core components: Motherboard, central processing unit (CPU), random access memory (RAM) modules, and a solid-state drive (SSD) or hard disk drive (HDD) for storage.
  • Peripheral components: Graphics card (GPU), sound card, and network interface card (NIC) for connectivity.
  • Case and power supply: A suitable chassis to house all the components and a power supply unit (PSU) to provide electrical power.
  • Input/output devices: Monitor, keyboard, mouse, and speakers.
  • Fasteners and cables: Screws, zip ties, and various cables to connect everything together.

A bill of materials typically lists each component’s name, part number, description, quantity required, and unit price. Additional information, such as supplier details, lead times, and alternative parts, may also be included.

Enhancing BOM management with PLM

Before implementing PLM, Gilmour Space struggled with managing its bill of materials and engineering documentation using Microsoft SharePoint, which lacked robust change control processes. This led to challenges accessing up-to-date design revisions, tracking changes, and reverting to previous baselines.

Adopting PLM transformed Gilmour Space’s bill of materials and engineering processes management. PLM software gave Gilmour a unified view of all product data by centralizing the entire BOM within a single system, enhancing collaboration and transparency across departments.

This integration allowed Gilmour’s engineers to easily track revisions, synchronize designs with CAD tools like SolidWorks and Onshape, and streamline the design release process.

Understanding BOM templates: benefits and limitations

Traditional BOM templates are detailed and structured, providing comprehensive descriptions, including part numbers, names, quantities, and specifications. They typically include information about suppliers, costs, and assembly instructions, making them crucial for initial planning and execution. However, a BOM template does not adapt well to changes when paired with static files such as Excel spreadsheets.

With a static document, each update requires manual intervention, which is time-consuming and prone to errors. This static approach also hampers real-time collaboration, often leading to miscommunication and delays as modifications by one team member are not immediately visible to others. Here’s why we recommend avoiding static files for your bill of materials template.

Challenges with static files and BOM management

Static files become problematic for BOM management when they serve as disconnected references from the original BOM template. Static documents are prone to errors, leading to inefficiencies in maintaining accurate records.

As today’s manufacturing becomes more dynamic, these documents lack the flexibility to adapt to changes quickly, require manual updates susceptible to human error, and fail to facilitate effective collaboration across teams and stakeholders.

When we talk to new clients, we often hear about the challenges of using these static documents in modern manufacturing environments and how they struggle to adapt as products increase in complexity. We see this regularly in three significant regards:

1 – Inflexibility and lack of scalability

Static documents struggle to keep pace with a product development lifecycle. As the hardware and manufacturing industries demand constant innovation and iteration, a static document’s inflexibility can create significant bottlenecks. Design changes, whether minor adjustments or major overhauls, can require time-consuming manual updates to the template, increasing the risk of errors and slowing down the entire development cycle.

As products progress through the lifecycle stages from design to prototype to production, static files’ limitations become more pronounced. They struggle to accommodate the complexities of large-scale projects. Static files make it difficult to maintain a clear and accurate overview of the entire bill of materials. This can lead to confusion, miscommunication, and costly mistakes during manufacturing and assembly.

2 – Error-prone and time-consuming

Static files rely on manual processes, which can lead to errors. Typos, incorrect quantities, and other inaccuracies can easily creep into the data entry and manipulation process. Later down the road, these can have expensive consequences. 

For example – if an Excel BOM template incorrectly lists the screws required for an assembly as 10 instead of 12, the final product will be missing components, potentially compromising its structural integrity or functionality.

This mistake can lead to safety hazards, performance issues, manufacturing delays, product defects, and recalls. Manually updating and maintaining BOM templates as complex products evolve can hinder workflow, divert resources from other tasks, and delay your time to market

3 – Collaboration and communication barriers

Static files hinder effective communication and collaboration across departments. When one engineer modifies a bill of materials while another does the same with a different version, discrepancies quickly emerge. Resolving these differences typically involves aligning the documents side by side and meticulously identifying and merging variations—a time-consuming and error-prone process. 

This can happen in team environments, where more than ten versions might circulate simultaneously. Email threads overflow with multiple document iterations, confusingly labeled with filename suffixes like Finalv15FinalCopyv2.xlsx.  Remember these? This worsens if an engineer holding the latest version is unavailable, stalling the entire product development process until their return.

Collaborating via spreadsheets comes with challenges. Since only one person can make edits at a time, careful coordination of updates is required, leading to bottlenecks. This is particularly problematic when team members have varying schedules and work paces, resulting in slowed progress and increased frustration. This often leaves the bill of materials incomplete and strains team dynamics.

Transitioning from static BOM limitations to PLM solutions

Manufacturing processes are complex, and today’s hardware teams need sophisticated, flexible tools to manage their bill of materials. PLM software offers a comprehensive solution to the limitations of static files.

While static BOM templates provide structured details essential for manufacturing, they do not support the agility required in dynamic production environments. Let’s compare the two side by side.

Static vs. Dynamic BOM Templates

The following table compares static bills of materials with dynamic BOM templates used in PLM systems and their management capabilities.

AspectStatic BOMsPLM Systems
Update MechanismManual updates required; slow and error-prone.Automated, real-time updates streamline processes and simplifies revision control.
CollaborationLimited real-time collaboration; updates not visible to all.Enhanced collaboration with real-time data access for all stakeholders.
ScalabilityStruggles with scale and complexity; not suitable for large-scale projects.Efficiently handles complexity and scales with project needs.
Error RateHigh due to manual entries and lack of version control.Significantly reduced through automation and better version control.
Operational SpeedSlower due to manual processes, increasing time to market.Accelerates production cycles and reduces time to market.

This table illustrates the core differences in how static BOMs and PLM systems handle the crucial aspects of BOM management. Static BOMs often lead to inefficiencies and errors due to their inflexible and manual nature, while PLM systems introduce automation, scalability, and real-time collaboration, which are essential for modern manufacturing demands.

Goodbye static BOMs—let PLM manage your bill of materials

Linking a bill of materials template to modern and flexible PLM software represents a significant improvement for today’s manufacturers and hardware teams. This shift allows BOM management to evolve from static documents to dynamic, integrated systems, which are far better suited to the fast pace of modern product development and the needs of innovative teams.

Static bills of materials lack flexibility, are prone to errors, and are difficult to scale. They often hinder collaboration and fail to integrate well with broader system architectures, leading to inefficiencies and escalating costs. As businesses grow and their products become more complex, they require systems that can rapidly adapt and maintain clear communication across various departments.

PLM software significantly outperforms tools like Excel and Google Sheets by offering adaptability, real-time updates, and enhanced accuracy, essential for maintaining BOM integrity. Being scalable and compatible with CAD and ERP systems, PLM streamlines operations and boosts productivity, helping today’s companies stay competitive and poised for future growth.

Considering the limitations of static BOMs and the dynamic capabilities of PLM systems, are you satisfied with your current approach? Transitioning to a PLM solution could revolutionize your operations, ensuring your team remains agile and competitive. A PLM system could significantly improve your product lifecycle management and reduce the risks associated with manual BOM processes.

Further bill of materials reading

For more on selecting the right BOM management software and understanding bill of materials requirements, check out our additional resources:

Duro’s out-of-the-box PLM platform is intuitive for your entire hardware team.

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Duro’s GraphQL API allows you to query rich data on your libraries.

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Gain efficiency by centralizing documentation.

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