The Growing Challenge of Configurable BOMs for Complex Products

And How to Leverage Product Models to Address It

We have all grown accustomed to the ability to customize, and even personalize, our purchase experiences. This is true of both consumers and corporations.

The key word is “experience”. Our expectations have risen to a level where the ability to offer customization with a custom product builder is no longer a deal-winner, but a qualifier. Now, companies are judged on their ability to provide a smooth, seamless, and error-free purchase experience.

While this might appear to be a sales and marketing challenge, the implications are felt across the entire product delivery value chain. Engineering, in particular, faces considerable challenges in meeting customization demands.

Configurable BOM Challenges for Engineers

The Bill of Materials (BOM) is the most important artefact used by engineers to capture product information. It can come in various forms from Engineering BOMs (eBOMs) to Manufacturing BOMs (mBOMs) to Sales BOMs (sBOMs) that capture what has been offered to customers in quotations. For complex products, it is not uncommon for BOMs to have thousands of BOM items making it difficult to get an overview. Ensuring that eBOMs, mBOMs and sBOMs are consistent can be challenging.

To support customization, it is necessary to add options to BOM items along with selection conditions for when those items can be chosen. Now these Configurable BOMs (cBOMs) or 150% BOMs become even larger and more difficult to manage. But the major challenge arises when a 100% BOM needs to be created for a specific product configuration requested by a customer. This requires the cBOM to be “solved” for that specific configuration. Today, this can be a manual and time-consuming process for engineers.

To address this challenge of Configurable BOM management and BOM generation, engineers can leverage product models already defined to support sales product configuration tools. Modern product configuration websites and portals enable customers to choose the options to be included in their customized product. Behind the scenes, product configuration models are used to manage the rules and constraints for product choices offered to customers during the configuration process.

Leveraging Product Model Approaches

Product configuration tools rely on Configuration Lifecycle Management (CLM) solutions.

CLM solutions are designed for huge datasets to capture all possible product configuration options (otherwise known as the solution space). The number of possible configurations can be in the millions. But for CLM systems to be useful, it must be possible to validate a specific configuration in seconds in support of an interactive, guided-selling process.

For example, Configit Ace®, the market leading CLM solution, uses Virtual Tabulation® technology to store all of the possible configurations in a way that supports fast lookup and validation. It is this same technology that can be leveraged by cBOM designers to explode BOMs and generate 100% BOMs instantly.

The latest version of Configit Ace® now includes a BOM Solve service that can be accessed via a reliable and secure, web-based API. The BOM Solve service can generate a 100% BOM for a given configuration based on a Configurable BOM compiled as a Virtual Tabulation® package.

Engineers can use the BOM Solve service to design the Configurable BOM (cBOM) with the ability to quickly generate an eBOM to test using different configurations. Since the BOM Solve service doesn’t require a complete configuration, it is possible to iteratively build and test functionality. This also enables engineers to develop cBOMs at the same time as product models are being built. This ensures consistency and the ability to test both the cBOM selection conditions and the product model rules and constraints at the same time.

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Accelerating the Quotation Process

The BOM Solve solution enables manufacturers to reduce the time it takes to determine whether a specific configuration request can be supported and generate a 100% sales BOM for the quotation. The time to quotation for a request could be reduced from weeks to minutes and is a significant step in enabling manufacturers to move from an Engineer-to-Order (ETO) to a Configure-to-Order (CTO) automated process.

But the solution can also accommodate manufacturers that still need to provide ETO services as part of their offering. The BOM Solve API can generate a 120% BOM where selection conditions that have been defined can be resolved while other choices need to be made in consultation with engineering as part of the customer engagement process.

The BOM Solve service provides an example of where product model approaches can be used to bring additional value to the management and generation of BOMs, especially for increasingly complex configurable products. But this is just the beginning and we at Configit are looking forward to engaging with engineers to discuss how product models and Virtual Tabulation® can provide further value in the product development process.

How to Rapidly Generate a BOM for a Configurable Product
By Leveraging Product Models?

Learn how Configit Ace® BOM Solve API dramatically reduces cBOM design time and effort,
and helps to respond to customization requests faster.

About the Author

Daniel Joseph Barry is VP of Product Marketing at Configit. Dan Joe has more than 30 years of experience in engineering, sales, marketing, product management and strategy roles within IT and telecom companies.