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sleepIn the previous post, I described that the item is the primary entity used in the connection between a PLM system and an ERP system. The initial definition comes from the engineering department, defining the main characteristics of the item, like ID (part number), Description and Classification Data for engineering usage.

Next when the item reaches a certain maturity stage, that it will be purchased or produced, the initial definition needs to be transferred to the ERP system and to be completed in ERP with logistical data. Often as part of the classification data, the engineer has already defined what type of item it will be. This information can be used in ERP to apply default data based on a certain template item or derived-from item.item_id

Item identification / Part Number

Most of the manufacturing companies are using so called ‘intelligent’ part numbers to identify their items. This was done for historical reasons. As there was no IT system in the company, the part number contained logic and information in order to ‘immediately’ understand its usage.

For example M210-23-4-00-A3.C tells me immediately it is a manufactured part, first time used in the milling product line (210) and it is used for hydraulic (23), not in stock (4), a preferred item for engineering (00) and its definition can be found on the drawing with the same name, size A3 revision C.

If you did not understand this directly from the number, it does not mean you are not intelligent, although it is an intelligent part number. This shows that intelligent numbers are useful when people are trained and have a good memory. For everyone else in the company (and joining the company later) the number is initially the same as a meaningless number.

For that reason is is recommended to use ‘non-intelligent’ numbers to identify parts. This creates no overhead for people to learn all kind of intelligent numbering mechanisms and it pushes everyone to look to additional information which can be understood immediately, like the description or classification data. We have now IT systems like a PLM or ERP system that allows us to display more than a number.

For backwards tractability of course beside the new meaningless part number, there can be also a place holder in the IT system to define what the origin of the part was (with the intelligent part number). Specially when companies merge this will happen. The same part exists in different numbering schemes in each company. The only way to solve this is to add a new identifier, preferred to be the ‘non-intelligent’ number.

Conclusion: For part numbers it is recommended to use non-intelligent numbers based on a sequence, avoiding the creation of legacy information (merge) or training to understand the items by number.

Now the new created part has a meaningless identifier, we have achieved two things:

  • The PLM and ERP system have unique key to share. Identifying this number with its revision (if relevant) immediately makes it clear for both the PLM and ERP system which part is meant.
  • To understand what the item really does, we need to understand additional information like its description


: Not all ERP systems support revisions of items. Some work always with the actual version of the item. Where PLM systems trace and keep the exact definition of an item, often ERP systems trace the item by effectivity. You need to know what was the engineering definition, when the item was manufactured.


Description / Classification

Initially when an item is defined the engineer might create a description, like HYDRAULIC CLAMP without any further details. Some years later there might be 10 or more hydraulic clamps in the system, where some of them might be identical and others differ. However the description HYDRAULIC CLAMP might be sufficient for a part list to be shipped to a customer (we do not want the customer to know the exact item characteristics in order to have him order the spare parts through us).

Often on the engineering side an additional description field is added, which is a detailed description. This description is used internally and should be standardized in order to support the engineer to select the right item.

So HYDRAULIC CLAMP could have an internal definition HYDRAULIC CLAMP 400-600 describing its usage. This detailed description should be either enforced and generated by the PLM or should be handled through a librarian or standardization role in engineering. This should be combined with a classification of the new item. The advantage of a detailed description and classification is two-fold:

  1. It supports engineers to search for existing items – so reuse is more likely. Often the description in the ERP system was not built in this way and for that reason engineers re-invent items while they might exist.
  2. The classification will alert the engineer or librarian that an item with the same classification characteristics already exists. This means it might be identical or an additional classification characteristic is needed to differentiate the two items.

The definition of a new item would go through the following steps:

  • The engineer defines the description and can work with the item in a temporary mode as he is not sure of using the new item in this way
  • The item becomes mature and he needs to generate the detailed description.
  • At this stage the librarian or a standardization committee might come in, to analyze the need for the new item. And if so to define all its classification data, knowing it is a new and unique item needed.
  • Once the engineering definition is completed, the item definition can be send to the ERP system in order to complete it with logistical data – who can manufacture it and tens of attributes more. The item still is not released
  • A hand-shake from the ERP system will confirm that the item definition is completed and as part of the release process the item can be approved for manufacturing. In case no pre-production stage exists it might be released even.

new item defintion

Conclusion: Standard Description, Detailed Description and Classification information is done on the PLM side to support reuse of items and to avoid creation of similar items with a different part number. The ERP systems uses the description definition and completes the definition with ERP required information. Data relevant for the engineering is synchronized back once the full definition is available.

The next post in this sequence will be discussing the BOM transfer to ERP

This week was again a week with several customer visits and discussions around PLM implementations. As analysts like CIMdata, AMR Research, the Aberdeen group are all claiming that PLM will be the next thing for small and medium manufacturing companies, the discussion around PLM is on-going. Of course PLM vendors are adapting their messaging and sometimes their products towards the SMB.

Some vendors like PTC and UGS try to downscale their existing products mainly by changing the packaging of the product (but it remains a PLM system originally designed for enterprises) others like Dassault Systemes have a special SMB offering with full PLM capabilities, ENOVIA SmarTeam.

But let’s assume we have the ideal PLM solution for an SMB company. This was the startpoint, I had during my meetings this week.  How would you motivate a company to implement PLM, knowing all the constraints of SMB companies. Miki Lumnitz wrote about it in his blog –PLM for SMB who are those companies ?

I noticed one of the main issues for discussion is the handling of the MBOM (Manufacturing BOM). So let’s look at the different view points in a company.

EBOM (Engineering Bill Of Materials)

 “The EBOM reflects the way a product was functionally designed”

When engineers define a product, they design (or reuse) assemblies (modules) and add new parts and assemblies to the design. When working with a 3D CAD system, saving the product results in a document structure which resembles a lot the engineering BOM. Traditionally companies got the impression that by changing this EBOM structure a little, they would have a structure ready for manufacturing, called the MBOM.

MBOM (Manufacturing Bill of Materials)

image “The MBOM reflects the way a product will be manufactured”

The MBOM is a structure derived from the EBOM. Main changes from EBOM to MBOM are:

  • removal of subassemblies that do not exist in the physical world. For example a grouping of two parts which are logically grouped by the designer, but as a group do not make sense for manufacturing (Assembly B). And in addition of non-design items which are needed for manufacturing the product. For example paint or grease. (Item F)

Traditionally – and also in the companies I was visiting – the EBOM is domain for the engineering department and with additional modifications they provide a BOM (is it EBOM or MBOM ?) to the ERP system.  Some companies add non-engineering items to their design – they draw a can of paint in their design to make sure the paint is part of the BOM . Some work with phantom production order to address the usage of subassemblies by engineering.


Both EBOM and MBOM definition are preparations before production can start. The EBOM and MBOM contain the product knowledge how to build and how to manufacture a product. For that reason they should be handled in the PLM system. The main reasons for that are:

  • during process engineering there is a need to use, analyze and sometimes adapt engineering data. This can be done in the most efficient way within one system where all product data is available
  • PLM systems, like ENOVIA SmarTeam contain tools to create quickly based on certain rules a MBOM derived from the EBOM and when changes occur even compare both structures again, to adapt to these changes
  • Having a single environment for product definition and manufacturing improves the total product understanding

So where is the MBOM ?

Ask yourself as a company ” where do I handle the MBOM ?”  Some of you might say, we do not have an MBOM as our EBOM with some modifications is already good enough for manufacturing.  Many companies might say, we manage the MBOM in the ERP system as this is (was) the only system we had where we could define such structures. These companies are candidate for improving their Concept to Manufacturing process, as for sure either users or working methods are compromised to work with the MBOM in the ERP system.


Some might says: Do we still need ERP systems ?

Yes, as ERP systems are built to schedule and execute the production of well defined products in the most efficient way. ERP systems are needed for the execution, often the core activity for manufacturing systems.

PLM systems are reason that ERP systems can execute, they bring the product definition and information to produce a product. And in case the company designs and manufactures excellent and innovative products the future is bright.

But we should not consider engineering activities in the same way as production activities.

Einstein once said (and he is not an expert anyway):

Innovation is not the product of logical thought, even though the final product is tied to a logical structure

I am curious to learn where your manage your MBOM

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