'BOMs' away

2 min read

Underwater power and lighting manufacturer DeepSea has cut its costs and time to market for new products by investing in web-based electronic bill of materials (BOM) software. Dean Palmer reports

Managing and synchronising bills of material (BOMs) across the business is a major challenge for most firms. The ideal is to reach a situation where departments downstream of engineering (purchasing, manufacturing, assembly and the like) all work from a single, centralised BOM version, driven by engineering. The rest of the business, or at least those functions that are likely to be affected by engineering changes, always has access to the latest BOM version. The problem for many is their reliance on paper-based systems to manage and update BOMs. They end up with multiple, out of synch, out of date BOMs circulating around the business. This leads to excessive delays while one office downstream waits for another to pass over the relevant BOM. The result: people pushing wheelbarrows full of paper and revision documents around the company. Aside from the obvious excess paper costs related to this, you also incur costs each time purchasing orders incorrect materials based on an out of date BOM. DeepSea Power & Light designs and manufactures precision products for the global oceanographic industry: deep-water power systems, underwater video equipment and lighting systems, some custom-designed for specific applications. Turnover is around £8.5m per year. The firm is based in San Diego with 65,000 square metres of factory including manufacturing, pressure and test facilities, complete machine shop, CAD office, electronics laboratory and cable shop. There are 90 employees in all at the site. Greg Eagles, DeepSea’s material control manager: “Three years ago, we relied on spreadsheets to update and manage BOMs. We were becoming swamped with spreadsheets and data entry tasks. We had revision control issues, manual errors, problems sharing data internally with other departments and our PCB and machine shop suppliers were taking weeks to get quotations back to us.” There were other issues too. “Some clients need to see prototypes launched on time at annual exhibitions. So any product design changes need reflecting immediately in the BOM so that we can produce more accurate production cost estimates for when we ramp up to full production.” DeepSea’s parent, Light & Motion, came up with a solution. It had been busy for a few years developing its own ERP (enterprise resource planning) and electronic BOM system. As a result of this, Light & Motion’s founder set up his own firm, bom.com, to sell BOM software. This is the company DeepSea turned to for help last year. Predict production costs The software DeepSea now uses is a web-based electronic BOM system that enables users, both internal and external, to access, update and share BOM data from their desktop throughout the entire development process. Piloting the software across one of its prototypes, Eagles says: “We’ve much smoother internal lines of communication now and with our suppliers. There’s less paperwork, less time spent re-keying data and we know what our likely production costs will be.” “We’ve cut overall time to market for new products and the time it takes suppliers to respond to requests for quotes. Suppliers access our BOM data over the web and send quotes back to us within hours now rather than weeks. We’ve even saved on travel expenses because we don’t have to visit suppliers to discuss design issues now.” So far, six of DeepSea’s key suppliers are using bom.com plus 10 or so internal users, but Eagles reckons it’s just a matter of time before more suppliers get on board. “We’ve integrated bom.com with our CAD software [15 Solidworks users] so we now attach drawings to BOMs and give suppliers access to it over the web. So BOMs and design data are synchronised now.” This is worth checking out. The software itself is $1,000 a year for each named user. ($10k in DeepSea’s case). Plus there’s no set up or installation costs as it’s all subscription-based and runs over the web. “We bought an annual floating supplier license which cost another $1,000 – so it’s minimal risk investment.”