Differences in how engineers and manufacturers deal with a BOM

Ok. So this is a post about work - and work conflicts. Particularly between manufacturing and engineering.

I think that oftentimes, manufacturing and engineering are asked to work in parallel while being completely at odds philosophically.

Engineers deal with a lot of different possibilities, and have to narrow those possibilities down into the best solution. I feel the job calls for a high level of creativity - balanced by structure - focused on multiple possibilities, and future orientation.

In contrast, manufacturers are making ideas a physical reality, and they are a little more burdened by budgets, the demands of operations, the production schedule, etc. (Not to say engineers don't get bogged down by those things) but it seems like the departmental goals are ultimately very different. Manufacturers need to worry more about the here and now, and I don't see that pressure on engineers quite as much.

I think the differences in charters causes engineers and manufacturers to form very different beliefs about how things should get done. Engineers want to make changes rapidly and manufacturers seem a little more hesitant to make huge changes.

Not 100% sure why it happens this way, but engineers I've talked with say they've experienced major disconnects between engineering and production—particularly when it comes to managing the bill of materials (BOM) and changes.


Has anyone out there experienced this?


And for a further analysis of this topic . . .


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Comment by Tad AC Forsythe on December 19, 2011 at 6:43am

Having the definition package completed by engineering is a must because you will pay for your efforts now or later and typically later means a rather large increase.....


increase in cost regarding time and money. I have never been a part of any rework that wasn't more frustrating or more costly for the company than the first time we tried to accomplish the same task.

Comment by Tad AC Forsythe on December 16, 2011 at 6:48pm

As a design engineer who creates the definition drawings for internal and external consumption it can be difficult to manage the customer requirements while taking into account the effect they have on the other departments.

Additionally, no one department will be satisfied. If program managementhas have three clear goals to manage: cost, quality and functionality one will invariably suffer. None can rise to be equal to the other two.

While inviting supply chain, quality and supply chain to be part of the kick-off meeting and PDR (which is before the BOM and definition documents are released for production buys) is smart, engineering ultimately needs to ensure the equipment meets the customer requirements. That is not to say you cannot ask for relief from a customers specification or have the customer agree to change their specification, but the program manager who is coordinating all the departments has the most difficult time communicating the actions and results within the respective departments.

Having the definition package completed by engineering is a must because you will pay for your efforts now or later and typically later means a rather large increase.

Comment by Brian G Peterson on October 3, 2011 at 5:25pm

Changes made rapidly by engineers without regard to the impact on the supply chain and manufacturing is a recipe for disaster for a manufacturer (old saying "haste makes waste"). The BOM should include as many parts as possible that are already in the supply chain and familiar to manufacturing to be effective for the organization.

Too often inexperienced design engineers will "design to requirements" without regard to the impact on the supply chain, manufacturing or the end user and gain a reputation for "throwing it over the wall" to purchasing and manufacturing. All new parts or assembly designs must include input from those affected to prevent confusion and delays after engineering release and insure the BOM is managed effectively. 

The key is for the design team to clearly understand these issues and account for them in the early stages of concept development. So effective design engineers include supply chain, production and, if practical, end users when developing design objectives. This takes a little extra time in engineering but pays dividends over the long haul. For example, designing an assembly that requires a non-standard fastener that has to be purchased in large minimum quantities (and long lead times) or that requires a special tool to maintain after installation adds cost and time to the production or maintenance process. The best designs include not only performance requirements but minimize impact to supply, manufacturing and customer domains in their up front requirements. When done effectively, the end result will be a product that reuses as many stock parts, jigs, tools and fixtures as possible.

Another rule to live by: Never design anything that can be bought from a catalog. It will make manufacturing's life better, improve the companies bottom line and free the engineer to spend more time in creative activities.

Comment by Gerald E Fought on October 1, 2011 at 9:42am

My own experience has been a mis-understanding of how important I am to the whole manufacturing process. Design engineering is a staff function, and is not required during the line function manufacturing of a product. Our job has to be done completely, to allow manufacturing to get on with the busines of making and delivering that product so the comapny gets paid. I know it sounds a little brutal, but when I am dealing with manufacturing I understand that they are very focused on building product for the reason above. All the engineering design intent needs to be in the field of the drawing and the BOM has to be correct for manufacturing to make the product consistently, reliably, and repeatably.

Mike Shipulski has a good article on his blog that describes what happens when we, as engineers, don't get the time to do our job correctly. It is funny, but very true...no engineering, no product. You can find it at http://www.shipulski.com/2011/06/29/pushing-on-engineering/ . He is speeking to lean manufacturing, and where they can be a little more expensive, and still make and deliver product. The second part of the article points toward us as engineers, and making certain we understand and have a plan for solving the design challenge.

As you pointed out, manufacturing is burdened by the reality that they have to meet production schedules due to the accountants projections and sales demands. Their job does get quite a bit easier with a well designed and documented product.

Gerald Fought

President - Fought Engineering Consulting LLC

Comment by Mike Wayte on September 30, 2011 at 10:43am

Perhaps a better question is: who has not experienced this?  As a lifelong engineering salesman of self clinching fasteners (17 years with PEM, 3 years wtih Clinch Engineering) I can remember my very first outside sales call after a few years on the order desk dealing with items published as standards and in reality being "custom" in the aspect of having lead times and order minimums.  I spoke with a lead engineer advising that items on the outside of the spectrum of standard are difficult for manufacturing and can cause serious and ongoing supply chain issues.  The engineer looked at me and said, "why would I do that?".

It was an erudication on the mentality of the design engineer mindset.  Of course this was in the mid 90's before Poke-Yoke, Kaisen, and Six-Sigma, but we still run into these problems to date as clearly pointed out in you article.

Sales engineers are more than happy to help by directing engineers toward cost effective and standard solutions.  The sales engineer that directs you away from a standard solution is more interested in a commission than the ease of production for the manufacturer.  So consider your sources wisely.

Mike Wayte




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