PLM vs Excel

Lionel Grealou Manufacturing PLM 2 minutes

Everyone likes Excel

MS Excel has become a must-have tool to create, edit, organize and present data, in a tabular or chart format. 

In the manufacturing industry, Bills of Material (BoMs) are the most critical piece of information used when new products are introduced (aka the ‘lifeblood of manufacturing‘ organizations). BoMs typically started in Excel as the list of key components of a product. Hence, the question:

Is it suitable for BoMs to be managed in Excel, and is it sustainable?

Managing EBoM (Engineering) or MBoM (Manufacturing) in Excel is only possible with simple and limited number of products. Excel quickly becomes a liability as soon as products become complex, more data is being released, product components, part and structure volumes are growing, product configuration complexity is increasing, number of outsourcing partners is growing, product engineering and manufacturing become global, etc.

BoM Management with Excel

Common limitations in managing BoM with Excel include:

  • Lack of data traceability
  • Poor revisioning management
  • Poor access control and security
  • Data duplication
  • No central repository 
  • Limited concurrent usage
  • Poor searchability
  • Poor reporting ability
  • Time-consuming management
  • Poor improvement ability

Low entry cost for using Excel is often paid many fold (hidden cost of the above limitations and related ‘hidden factories‘) e.g. in time spent making sense of errors and manual / semi-automated cumbersome updates. Often, the Product Life-cycle Management (PLM) business case can be justified by addressing and improving BoM management, in terms of resource efficiency, downstream productivity gains, root cause issue resolution, quality improvement, etc.

Modern BoM Management with PLM

PLM solutions are designed to manage BoM information, keep it consistent, adhering to managed operating standards and business requirements, single central repositories, while optimizing data re-use and collaboration: ‘single source of truth‘ mantra.

Some organizations considered removing access to import from / export to Excel from their PLM applications to limit uncontrolled usage of data and reports. Most PLM applications now have advanced data search, live feed dashboard which can be tailored to business needs, with Excel-like features for data mining, profiling, compiling, formatting, presenting in various chart for analysis.

What are your thoughts?

This post was originally published on LinkedIn on 26 July 2015.

About the Author

Lionel Grealou


Lionel Grealou, a.k.a. Lio, helps original equipment manufacturers transform, develop, and implement their digital transformation strategies—driving organizational change, data continuity and process improvement, managing the lifecycle of things across enterprise platforms, from PDM to PLM, ERP, MES, PIM, CRM, or BIM. Beyond consulting roles, Lio held leadership positions across industries, with both established OEMs and start-ups, covering the extended innovation lifecycle scope, from research and development, to engineering, discrete and process manufacturing, procurement, finance, supply chain, operations, program management, quality, compliance, marketing, etc.

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