The innovation BOM: bringing order to conceptual design

Innovation BOM

When you’re coming up with ideas early in the design process, where do you record them?

I’m guessing emails, spreadsheets, and notepads. Maybe you even store those ideas in your own head.

You see, when you’re innovating, it’s important to have flexibility. You probably don’t want to feel locked into a system early on, so it’s much easier to jot designs down on disparate napkins, notepads, spreadsheets, emails and whiteboards, since these methods are fast and easy canvases for jotting down thoughts.

And while you may not think of these early ideas as a bill of materials (BOM), it’s valuable to think about conceptual design as a systemized part of the BOM building process. You might not call your first list of parts a BOM by traditional standards, but it is a BOM—it’s the innovation BOM.

What is an innovation BOM?

An innovation BOM is essentially the list of parts that you are considering for a prototype—it defines the product and may include notes on how parts can be sourced. Unlike a traditional BOM, the innovation BOM is loosely documented, and isn’t revision controlled or kept in a central repository. It revolves around the part of the process where you are capturing gorilla chips and comparing your options before committing your list to ECAD.

The innovation BOM provides a framework for organizing the traditionally disorganized process of getting started with a design. Simply by thinking of this early brainstorming period as a systematic process, you naturally provide organization to your designs and find more opportunities to optimize.

How an innovation BOM helps you design smarter

Admittedly, once you introduce process into a creative exercise, you introduce limits. And when you’re innovating, limits can slow you down.

But there is a trade-off. When you bring some method to the madness of innovation, you can see tangible benefits:

1.     Simple part comparability for your design

Conceptual design determines 80% of a product’s cost and greatly influences quality, reliability and serviceability—and keeping your early design notes in one place helps you optimize your designs by providing a means for organizing and tracking candidate parts together. Once you’ve captured your parts in detail, it’s easier to compare a variety of parts and select parts with the most optimal availability and cost for your designs.

2.     Efficient collaboration with others

By storing your designs and candidate part options in one central location—the innovation BOM—you spend less time and energy collecting feedback, sharing your design ideas and gathering price quotes from potential vendors. 

3.     Fewer errors when collecting part information

When you take the time to gather accurate part information, you eliminate guesswork and reduce the chance of buying the wrong part—an expensive mistake that could slow or even halt your entire production line.

Wondering where to keep your innovation BOM?

Given the ubiquitous nature of today’s cloud tools, such as Google Docs, DropBox and Arena PartsList, there are plenty of free and lightweight tools great for innovating, and already at your disposal. We developed Arena PartsList to mitigate the challenges of the early design process. After all, designers don’t want revision-controlled innovation, but still benefit from applying some method to the madness of tracking and comparing part cost and availability.

In our next post, we will discuss how PartsList helps simplify and lend control to early design innovation. 

Alyssa Sittig

Alyssa played an instrumental role in the development of the Arena Blog and social media channels from 2011 to 2012. Joining the team with a background in public policy, Alyssa was particularly interested in the challenges that manufacturers face both domestically and overseas when taking products to market.