Social Product Development

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"Da BOM is Da Bomb" Or Unlocking The Value in Your Bill of Materials

Ok, I know...too much slang? But I couldn't pass up the alliteration or the homonym.

I’ve been thinking about the BOM (bill of materials) a lot lately. There is practically a religious war going on about the BOM, and it’s been going on for a long time, most notably, when PLM really started to take off. The question on the minds of most CIOs is “Should the BOM be owned by PLM or ERP?” After all, they likely spent significant time and resources deploying ERP….and then came PLM to muck it all up.

There are many types of BOMs; the engineering BOM (eBOM), manufacturing BOM (mBOM), and service BOM (sBOM), just to name a few. My colleague, Tom Shoemaker, wrote about this in a recently posted article in Time Compression. Best practices suggest that the best way to create these BOMs is through an associative transformation. Transforming the eBOM into the mBOM and the eBOM into the sBOM, while maintaining an associative link, ensures that changes made in one can be incorporated into the other. Note that BOMs may be generated in many different ways, depending on the type of products your company creates, for example configure-to-order, build-to-order, or engineered-to-order. Jos Voskuil does a nice job talking about this in his blog.

When you consider the BOM, it is so clear that it is jam-packed with valuable information and relationships. I don’t simply mean just the mechanical CAD content and electrical CAD content. But also engineering calculations, manufacturing information, service information, associated documentation, and analytics information about the product like chemical makeup, cost, weight, reliability, etc. More importantly, the relationships between and among the content is extremely valuable, informing why certain versions are being used or have been changed (as indicated by the associated engineering-change-order (ECO)). There is even greater value to be had by digging into the metadata, or “the data about the data,” that is naturally tracked in the BOM by PLM.

Who worked on what, when, and why did they do what they did? The PLM-managed BOM answers this important question. That’s one of the main reasons companies originally explored PLM in the first place. Now imagine using the BOM to find people who can help you answer your questions, innovate with you, and make recommendations. The BOM could actually recommend the right people to talk with based on their history with the BOM.

But it doesn’t stop there. So often people set up their profile (whether in a social network or a company directory) but never think to update it when things change. Say you changed jobs within your company. You’re still a mechanical engineer, but now you are working on an entirely different product for an entirely different industry or geography. Based on your new work and activity, the BOM to which you contribute could recommend that you update your own online profile in the product development system. How about that? Now different colleagues can find you to tap your expertise. And since you’re new to this role, you can find the people who’ve got experience with this industry sector.

The point: there is much more value to be derived from the PLM-managed BOM than was ever conceived of initially. And social computing technology is the key to unlocking it. Marrying social computing to the BOM leverages the inherent relationships and is a core capability of social product development. It's what sets it apart from general social computing and Enterprise 2.0. It's the special sauce.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this subject!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Time… The One Thing You Can’t Make More Of.

Make it better. Make it cheaper. MAKE IT FASTER. The pressures on product designers and engineers to crank out high quality, less expensive products are ever increasing. And no one is giving them more time to do it. In fact, they’re being asked (or told) to do it FASTER.

Yesterday, I talked with the Lead Design Manager from the Oracle America’s Cup racing team. Together with a group of very talented engineers and sailors, he and his design team just completed an incredible feat of engineering. They built one of the world’s fastest sailboats ever to win the America’s Cup sailing contest. They studied the complex rule system, conceived of the design, prototyped, analyzed, and built the boat. And they did it in six months. Flat.

If you haven’t been following the America’s lately, here’s a short lesson on how to win. Find a very wealthy sponsor who loves to sail. Assemble some of the brightest minds in aeronautics, engineering, composites, fluid dynamics, materials, and yacht design. Build a boat that kicks ass in any kind of weather and at any point of sail. Hand it over to world-class sailors and tacticians. Drink a beer while watching the race. Celebrate with expensive champagne.

The Oracle team of engineers and designers is spread out all over the world, because this kind of talent is rarely conveniently located in one place. Through amazing collaboration, these folks built what is basically a Boeing 747 wing (but 50% bigger), made it light and strong, and stood it up on a trimaran. Please buckle your seatbelts for take-off.

And they did it in six months.

There must be something about the number six, because that’s how many weeks the FIRST FRC robotics teams had to build their robots to compete in the regional competitions. Tomorrow and Saturday, I’ll be judging a regional 2010 FIRST Robotics Competition, evaluating the technical capabilities of robots that were conceived, designed, and built in six weeks. Flat. In this competition, there’s no slipping the schedule, asking for more time, pleading your case.

Build your robot. FAST. Period.

Just like the guys on the Oracle racing team, these teams pulled off an amazing feat of engineering. They collaborated across divides. They worked together against incredible deadlines. They were social. Open. Sharing.

I think social product development, and the introduction of web 2.0 capabilities into product development, holds great promise for helping do things faster. Think about your own personal productivity gains, with email, voicemail, IM, and cell phones at your disposal. Think about how the social web has helped you get things done faster. And then think about how product development will benefit from the same.

I’ll blog again after the FIRST competition and let you know how it went. Rest assured, one of the questions I plan on asking the teams is how they did it so FAST.

Image attributions:


  1. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BMW_Oracle_BOR90.JPG

  2. http://www.usfirst.org/roboticsprograms/frc/default.aspx?id=966 (image 2)


Thursday, March 4, 2010

DE Picks Pro/ENGINEER and Social Product Development

Desktop Engineering recently chose Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 5.0 as its Pick of the Week. While this is exciting news in its own right, I was interested to read Tony Lockwood’s additional commentary on the topic of social product development. He nicely sums up PTC’s efforts and vision in his closing paragraph; “Back in 1987, PTC changed engineering with its introduction of parametric editing. It took a while for the community to really embrace its new way of doing things. Instant messaging, Wiki-like functionality, and on the fly collaboration will also take time to worm into your workflow. When they do, and when everybody else does as PTC did, you'll wonder how the process ever worked without it”

After 25 years in the CAD business, there are still only a handful of technology leaps that stand out in my mind. The obvious ones are the shift from 2D to 3D, the introduction of parametric modeling, and the move from UNIX to Windows, which has made 3D CAD so ubiquitous today. Along the way, other advancements have added to productivity and the importance of CAD, but they haven’t fundamentally changed the way businesses use the software.

I believe we are ready for, and on the verge of, the next leap. Manufacturing companies are realizing they can get more from their CAD software. It’s no longer just a 3D modeler; it’s a mission critical tool. The explosion of social media clearly demonstrates an appetite for making information sharing easy and accessible. The trick for product development is to learn from this, while retaining the control and discipline that is necessary to design and engineer world-class, quality products.

I’m convinced PTC is well on the way to doing this, and agree with Tony’s prediction “…history may also record that social design engineering was the real news in version 5.0.”