Managing Your Supply Chain Bill (of Materials, That Is)

When we help our clients improve their supply chains the first step in the process is usually to identify what problem they need to solve, or what questions they are trying to answer. Examples of such questions might be

  • What will be the impact of several possible capital investments in our distribution system?
  • A major customer is considering changes in their manufacturing – how should we respond?
  • How can we improve the assignment of available production / inventory to customer orders?

After pinning down the objectives, the focus will then shift to the design of a planning model, or a software system, that will help them to address the identified needs. We find that a key design tenet for the model, or the scope of the supply chain to be covered, is to include enough detail to be able to answer the questions at hand, but no more.

A typical supply chain will stretch from procurement of raw materials to manufacturing to distribution to customers (and possibly beyond, on either or both ends.) Part of capturing the supply chain behavior will be to define the transformation of materials along the chain. This can be done by defining a bill of materials, or BOM, which defines the quantities of input ingredients that are required at a point in the supply chain to make an output material of interest. For instance, if you are a baker then your BOM is your recipe – e.g. the amounts of flour, buttermilk, leavening and various other ingredients required to make the batch of biscuits.

Deciding on the detail of the materials going into the BOM, and getting the right quantities for the BOM, is a key step in properly modeling the supply chain. If you are working at an operational supply chain level, the BOM will need to be detailed enough to actually make the product, but many times in a planning situation, it is reasonable to omit some of the detail, and only capture the main flows of product through the system. You will need to make these decisions based on your project objective.

For instance, if you are modeling a beverage company’s supply chain, water may be a key ingredient in the production process. If the question you are trying to answer for the beverage company is whether traditional warehouses vs. crossdocks is a better distribution solution for a part of the territory, then you may decide that the sources and cost of water for the production facilities will not have a big impact on the answer, so you can omit the water consumption from the analysis. On the other hand, if the objective of the analysis is to evaluate the impact of alternative future production locations on the company’s overall environmental impact and commitment to sustainable practices, then water for production (and waste water, and other intermediate or byproduct materials) would likely need to be included in the production BOMs.

Making good choices in defining your BOM is one of the important steps in getting a supply chain model to help you answer your questions effectively. Our extensive supply chain experience allows us to bring a large knowledge base to the assignment when we are helping our clients design in enough detail, but no more.

About Gene Ramsay

Dr. Gene Ramsay is an industry leader in supply chain distribution technology. He has both developed and implemented supply chain network design software in industries such as natural gas distribution, beverage production, chemical distribution and maritime shipping.