Is the BOM only useful at the endgame?

Jesse Rosalia
Sep 10, 2020

When you mention a Bill of Materials (BOM), most engineers immediately think: deliverable that comes at the end of design. At the end game. Something like...

Photo of lego depictions of superheroes

(This is, apparently, as close as we could get without angering The Mouse. Good to know.)

Is it true, though, that the BOM is only worth thinking about at the end of a project? There is a lot of value in having BOM information at the various stages of development, to assist with budgeting, planning, and design. Accumulate costs as more parts get added to the design, so you can catch price-creep before it exceeds what you had intended for go-to-market. Catch and prevent data errors ahead of time by saving information about a part when it’s fresh in your mind. Capture sourcing info as you find the parts for sale, so that you have a backup when you get to the end of your project and your primary source is out of stock (it has happened to us all). Having the right information at the right time can save you hassle and stress when you are frantically trying to convert coffee into a product.

So what is the limiting factor? In our experience, it’s time. Why spend the time to build a BOM and count your parts if you know that it’s going to change? Why spend the time to record detailed metadata about a part that you are unsure will even make it into the final design? It’s hard to justify the time given these tradeoffs, and so most people don’t, but as I’ve argued above, there’s value in having this information early on and a cost in waiting until the end to capture your data.

In an ideal world, this wouldn’t be hard to justify because the cost (i.e. time) of building and filling out your BOM would be small. This is what BOM automation tools like Bommer can offer. Make capturing metadata as simple as editing a spreadsheet, but store data persistently in the model so that it’s always there when you need it. Provide tools to generate a bill of materials from the current state of your model, with just a few clicks to configure your output. Integrate tightly with the tools you already use, such as CAD, so that you don’t have to manage a separate environment. The right tool makes it easy to justify spending a little time to reap the benefits of having data at your fingertips through the various stages of your design process.

So go on, engineers, assemble your BOM while you build your product. Use that information to make better product decisions. Spend less time on your BOM, and get more out of it.

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