The Fundamental Bill of Material Relation

From the designer’s point of view, the Bill of Material turns a sketch into a construction document. Its hard to generalize about BOMs, because of the variability of use. A BOM for a mass produced product is not like one for engineer-to-order/make-to-order. A BOM for a product small enough to be made and shipped in a box is not like one loaded in pieces and assembled on-site. A BOM might be an instruction for an experienced shop to build, or for an in-experienced customer to assemble. It might be a list of spare parts for replacement when the originals wear out. It might be a sales tool meant to inspire confidence – the design approved by the customer before the sale is made. The main customer of the drawing might be the designer who has a problem and uses the drawing to work it out. Next year he will have a similar problem and this drawing will be his prime source. it has to be complete and make sense. The BOM names and identifies the end product and the parts to get there.

Whatever the purpose and appearance of the drawing level BOM, however it is constructed, it is a report. It’s a view of the data in a Parts database. The view can change. The PART table it is based on all have similar features.

A formal database table, whether its in MS Access or your half million dollar ERP, is a collection of related entities. The items in a table are related by being all of one kind. A second kind of relation is the relationship between tables. Every table is named. The columns in a table are named. The rows are not named. There is a fixed number of columns, after the table design is complete, but a variable number of rows. Each row is a record. Every table has one column where the values are unique, no duplicates, no blanks, called the primary key. It provides the key to the record. Another column usually has the foreign key. It has the same kind of data as the primary key, but duplicates are allowed. Matching the primary key from one table and the foreign key of a second table is how tables are related.

Manufactured products are composed of assemblies, which are composed of sub-assemblies and parts. Every tracked item has to have a unique identifying number or name. These all go into one PARTS table. Assys, Sub-Assys, Made Parts and Purchased Parts are all distinct line items in the same PART table. One Assy can use many Parts, and one Part can be used in many Assys. That is called a Many to Many relationship. There is no limit in theory how many levels of Sub-Assys can be used in other Sub-Assys. This cannot be modeled in a single table.

The purpose of formal database structure is to make the storage and retrieval of data efficient, to eliminate duplication of data. The most common relation is between two tables of two different kind of things. When items of the same type in a single table have a relationship between themselves – called a Unary relationship – and it is a many-to-many type, a second table has to be created.

Modeling a relational dabase in Excel for output to Autocad – you can think of this as a pilot project, or a demonstration, or an educational project, but i think its a little bit more. Excel is the BOM autocad has always needed. Its a natural fit. Autocad never had a BOM solution and only introduced tables 2008 (or so). The designer creates the BOM, whether he does it in the window of the ERP program, or Excel, or with pencil and paper. Even if you hire Bill Gates to do your website, at some point he is going to ask you, where is your content? The ERP is the same way. You won’t get to standard parts if you implement with no knowledge of how a parts table works with no part naming conventions at all. Accounting may be satisfied, but engineering is just feeding the ERP beast and gaining nothing from it. With a mock up at least, you have to start thinking about how to name parts so it works over time. Excel can be used to paste into autocad and paste into ERP, so its not quite the same thing as duplicating data. It’s the most convenient editor. It has possible application for designing standard products, which are hard to do in an engineer to order company.

Here is the basic model of the Bill of Material relation – how you capture Assemblies of Sub-assemblies of Parts using database concepts. I will start doing the supporting code in the next post.

I had to make a decision about my on-dwg bom. Remember its just a report and is a view of the data. I chose 3 levels with 3 columns. I called them Assy_ID, Part_ID and LVL3. The part number is in the appropriate column. Thats my version of an indented bill. Google “Indented Bill of Material” for other ideas. So i do not have an infinite recursion of parts here. You could do that, but it would require a LEVEL column with an integer. Those dont seem particularly easy to read. As a first attempt, this works.

I have to credit my text. The E-R diagram and table structure (and probably some of the verbiage) are from
Modern Database Management, Hoffer, Prescott, McFadden, Prentice Hall, Sixth Ed, 2002

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