RPA BOM: 6 Ways BOM Automation Helps Manufacturers in ‘23

In 2022, having your online orders reach you “later than usual” wasn’t as surprising as it was back in 2019. From the automotive to the technology sector, the supply chain crisis has affected almost all industries.

One reason for the crisis is shipping issues. Another is producers not anticipating their diminishing stocks of intermediary goods. A McKinsey survey revealed that only 2% of smart device manufacturers, for instance, know when they will be able to source their next batch of chips from their suppliers to use in their next production cycle (see Figure 1).

An infographic shows that only 2% of smart device manufacturers have visibility into when their suppliers of chips will ship them in the batch.

Figure 1: Only 2% of smart device manufacturers have visibility into higher supply chain tiers. Source: McKinsey

BOM (bill of materials) is a document that contains a detailed account of the type and number of intermediate inputs that go into the production process of a good. So having an accurate and up-to-date BOM is one way to gain deeper visibility into your supply chain. Using automation technologies, such as RPA, can help producers in that regard.

In this article, I will leverage my over 10 years of experience in web scraping and data extraction to explain what BOM is, what RPA BOM is, and 5 ways that using RPA can improve your BOM generation and reduce the adverse effects of the supply chain crisis on your business.

What is a Bill of Material (BOM)?

A Bill of Material (BOM) is a document that lays out the type and the quantity of needed intermediary goods to create a specific output. Conceptually, a BOM is similar to a mathematical function that specifies how many inputs will result in the production of a certain amount of output (see Figure 2).

A mathematical function of Y=f(x)

Figure 2: A BOM works similarly to a mathematical function. Image source: SSDI

As an expert in data extraction, I often see companies struggle to gain full visibility into their supply chains due to outdated or incomplete BOMs. By clearly documenting every component and raw material needed for production through a centralized BOM, manufacturers can streamline purchasing, forecast demand more accurately, and reduce waste.

What is a Real-life Example of a BOM?

Figure 3 shows an example of a BOM for a bicycle:

  • Level 0 is the finished product;
  • Level 1 contains the structural pieces of a bike (2 wheels, a handlebar, the main frame, etc.);
  • Level 2 contains the subcomponents that are housed atop the substructure (the seat, the grips, the rims, etc.).

A bill of materials of a bicycle.

Figure 3: A bicycle’s BOM. Image source

The bike assembler schedules the production of the bike with respect to the delivery timeline and the sourcing of the parts.

BOM is important because it gives the producer visibility into:

  • What exactly is needed,
  • How much of it is required,
  • The delivery of which part should take priority over the others,
  • And the sequence by which parts should be assembled.
    • For instance, it is quite meaningless if all the parts are sourced bar the actual bike frame to house everything on it. So the sourcing of the bike frame should take priority over, say, the handlebar grips. BOM contextualizes this.

In my experience, manufacturers that lack clear BOM documentation often struggle with shortages of key components, rushed deliveries, and inefficient assembly. A detailed BOM provides the blueprint for smooth production.

What is RPA BOM?

Most of the steps that go into the creation, maintenance, and usage of BOM documents are rules-based and repetitive. The good news is that RPA can automate 70-80% of rules-based processes.

RPA BOM is setting up software robots, or "bots", that do not require any APIs, and can connect with a company’s inventory management and supply chain management software, to automatically create and update their BOMs.

We will go into the specifics of 5 key ways RPA improves BOM processes next.

5 Ways RPA Improves BOM Processes

1. Accurate Calculation of Required Inputs

Each product’s design sheet details the quantity and categories of intermediate goods needed to make it. As I‘ve seen firsthand, errors can easily creep in when employees manually compile BOMs from these design sheets.

RPA bots can fully automate BOM creation by extracting the product specifications and order amounts from design sheets and other data sources. By combining the BOM templates and order data, the bots can accurately calculate how much of each intermediate good is required, eliminating human error.

The result is a data-driven, error-free BOM that provides floor managers with precise quantities of required goods and tools to fulfill orders (see Figure 4).

IKEA’s assembly sheet details the number of screws and tools needed to assemble a product.

Figure 4: IKEA’s assembly sheet is essentially a BOM for consumers. Image source: Medium

2. Digitized Storage and Access

Cloud-based RPA solutions allow manufacturers to store BOMs digitally in a centralized location. This eliminates the need for physical BOM records and manual searches.

RPA bots can also be configured to respond to BOM queries. For example, managers, engineers, and assembly technicians could ask an RPA-enabled chatbot to instantly retrieve a specific BOM by ID number or name.

Storing BOMs digitally enables quick on-demand access from any location. Based on my experience, this can reduce assembly delays related to misplaced documents.

3. Real-time Component Stock Monitoring

Smart shelves equipped with IoT sensors are gaining popularity in warehouses and retail stores. The sensors:

  • Track inventory levels of components in real-time
  • Send alerts when items are removed from shelves
  • Provide constant updates on remaining stock

RPA bots can integrate with these sensors to maintain accurate inventory counts on BOMs. For example, the BOM may list a requirement of 1 LCD panel to manufacture each computer monitor, with 12 currently in stock. This number automatically decrements when panels are removed from the shelf.

Bots can also notify purchasing managers when stock of a component drops below defined thresholds, enabling proactive reordering. In my experience, this prevents costly component shortages during production.

4. Real-time Delivery Tracking

Manufacturers frequently source raw materials from global supply chains spanning multiple regions. For example, Airbus procures components for an A321 jet from over 4 countries in Europe (see Figure 5).

Airbus sources plane components from multiple regions

Figure 5: Airbus sources its planes’ parts from different regions. Image source: Simple Flying

By connecting RPA bots to supply chain management systems, manufacturers can automatically populate BOMs with real-time delivery ETAs for purchased components. The bots scrape shipment tracking data and add ETAs directly into a dedicated BOM column.

This provides up-to-date visibility into incoming material delays that may impact production timelines. As an expert in data extraction, I highly recommend this level of supply chain integration for manufacturers.

Smart fleet tracking can also automatically adjust ETAs when issues occur like truck breakdowns. The ETA changes in the logistics system flow through to the RPA bot, keeping the BOM current.

5. Instant Updates from Engineering Change Orders

When product engineering teams modify component specifications, an engineering change order (ECO) communicates the update throughout the organization. Changes may alter the supplier, shape, material, or quantity of a particular input.

RPA bots can monitor ECOs to immediately update affected BOMs. For example, if a plastic component is replaced with a metal version, the bot can scrape the ECO details, swap the components, and adjust any quantity changes on the BOM.

This automation ensures BOMs reflect all engineering changes in real-time, preventing costly mismatches between specifications and production.

Based on my experience in web scraping, RPA is a game changer for maintaining accurate BOMs. The technology enables continuous real-time monitoring of all inputs to manufacturing, delivering unprecedented visibility into the production process.

RPA Provides a Competitive Edge

In today‘s volatile supply chain environment, manufacturers cannot afford disjointed, outdated BOM processes. RPA delivers the accuracy, speed, and agility needed to optimize production in 2024 and beyond.

As an RPA expert, I highly recommend manufacturers explore automating BOMs as a competitive advantage. Please reach out if you would like to discuss an RPA proof of concept for your BOM processes. With over a decade of data extraction experience, I can help you evaluate your operations and build a business case demonstrating the value of RPA.

Investing in automation today will pay dividends through more efficient, resilient manufacturing capabilities in the future. Let‘s connect to explore how RPA can transform your production workflows.