June 9, 2022
A few years ago I wrote an article – Are you ready for BOM? If you think it’s a funny question, think twice. Here is the deal. Unless you believe that your beautiful CAD design will automatically turn into a manufacturing product, keep reading. Because to turn your design into production, you must take it through the complex process of transformation from design to manufacturing. The process includes BOM creation, purchasing components, and materials, and finding contract manufacturers and suppliers. It will require a continuous digital thread that connects your design dream to a reality, including changes, fixes, prototyping, and mass production (if needed).
Today, I want to talk about the first step in this process every engineering team is facing – how to create a BOM? As much as you can think about the process as a simple one, there are a few pitfalls you need to avoid. In my blog today I will talk about how you can check your data to ensure it is good enough to produce a BOM. As an engineer, you might not be thinking about it, but once you need to take this information downstream, it can become a showstopper and turn your process into a nightmare.
What is needed to create a BOM?
In the process of BOM creation, the design data will be transformed into a product structure that can be later shared and transformed into a bill of materials with all design information and integrated into a seamless connected process using OpenBOM one-click BOM integration technologies. Nevertheless, there are a few things that need to exist in order to make this transformation happen.
1- Item Identification
Every object in your CAD data must be identifiable in the way it can be used in the Bill of Materials structure. While in CAD design you can use ambiguous names, when you start turning it into engineering BOM and later to production planning, Part Numbers are coming into a play. You can get multiple configurations of the design with ambiguous names, but if you built two different configurations of the product, each item must be easily identified in a unique way.
Product structure is a natural form to be a foundation of the Bill of Materials. You expect a Bill of Materials to create a structure. It cannot have cycles and duplicated objects. But here is the problem. The CAD system is capable to manage the structure based on the internal CAD system identification. When the data is coming to form a BOM structure, an absence of good identification and unique object relationships can be a problem.
3- Geometric and metadata
Design information is absolutely necessary when you form a useful bill of materials. Some data is descriptive (eg. Material) and some of the data is calculated (eg. dimensions). When you are in a CAD system it might be less important, but once you get in the BOM, you need to have these nuggets of information to turn them into valuable assets – eg. cost calculation, cut lists, mass roll-ups, etc.
Typical Data Problems
Here are the top three problems we are typically facing when seeing our customers attempting to create a BOM from their CAD data sets.
1- Insufficient data (names, part numbers, etc)
There is a need to get some information to identify the data in the CAD. The absence of Part Numbers is the most common problem. OpenBOM can help you automatically generate part numbers, but the attempt to create a BOM without a Part Number or wrong identification is one of the most frustrating experiences. Some of the modern CAD systems (especially cloud CAD systems) are famous for giving an easy way to create data online without names or duplicated names, which is another big problem. Unique geometry re-use can easily create multiple components that cannot easily be identified. Therefore OpenBOM builds multiple tools to create automatical numbers or use names for unique identifiers by ignoring internal IDs.
2- Disambiguation of Design Configurations
Multiple configurations without clear identifiers can be another source of the problem. It is not obvious to engineers that two configurations must have different part numbers, otherwise, no one will be able to build them. It is important to set Part Numbers for configurations to use them downstream.
3- Multiple files and/or projects
Switching from “file/folders/project” thinking to “database” and “data” thinking is another big place of frustration. I can see customers copy an entire CAD file set between folders attempting to bring the data to OpenBOM and only later realize that they cannot use the same files and part numbers with different meanings in the same OpenBOM account. Fortunately, OpenBOM data management is really flexible and allows you to separate projects between isolated OpenBOM accounts.
CAD Data Validation Checklist
Here is the checklist I recommend to every OpenBOM customer to run on their CAD data before clicking on the button to create a BOM from their CAD design.
- Check CAD Part Number settings, and validate Part Numbers are unique. If not, use OpenBOM Part Number generation features to organize your CAD data with unique identifiers.
- Check CAD configurations and ensure, that each configuration can be identified with a separate Part Number to prevent the creation of multiple BOMs with different structures and the same part number.
- Check different data attributes you have in CAD (especially in systems like Solidworks, Autodesk Inventor, and similar) in order to not bring hundreds of attributes you don’t need to a BOM.
- Last, but not least, think about data cleaning before creating a first BOM. It will help you a lot because a clean and healthy dataset is the best foundation to streamline the process.
As I’m always saying to our customers – if you bring computers into a mess, you will get a computerized mess. That’s not what you want to do. First, you need to clean the mess and then bring computers to manage this information.
Cleaning and preparation of the CAD data is an essential part of the BOM creation process. To perform this task is extremely important in order to get the results you need. OpenBOM gives you the tools you need, but you are the best source of information about your data, so you need to take the essential step of cleaning the data to make it ready for BOM.
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