A bill of materials (BOM) is a full list of the assemblies, subassemblies, designs, and drawings used to create a product.

The traditional BOM, however, lacks information about features — about what a given system or subsystem is designed to do.

An attendee at a live Tech Briefs presentation last week had the following question for Brett Hillhouse, Global Industry Leader for IBM Automotive & Electronics Cloud and Cognitive Software.

Brett Hillhouse

"What are the benefits for a company to switch from feature-based modeling vs a traditional bill of materials (BOM) structure?"

Read Brett's edited response below.

Brett Hillhouse: This is a good question. We often get designs given to software engineers or electrical engineers to go implement. Feature-based modeling is approaching this in a slightly different fashion. I’ll give you an example.

Take the lift gate, for instance, on a vehicle: You tell the engineer: "Hey, go design a system that when you put when you put your foot underneath the back bumper, it opens up the lift gate for me."

That’s somebody taking a BOM approach. That's somebody taking a typical approach.

You have to step back a level and think about: What is the actual source code requirement? What does the person really want? Their hands are full. They need an easy way to get into the vehicle. There are many different ways to approach this.

When I design from a feature-based structure, I don't impose immediate specific software, mechanical, electrical requirements on it. I can think through different options. I have a feature. I need a way to open an automatic lift gate. I can implement that with pure software; I can implement that with a combination of software, electronics, or hardware, or anything in between.

That allows you to look at many more sets of options and approaches, and to get the best possible outcome from it — from a performance perspective, a cost perspective, a weight perspective. It really puts into the engineering process new ways of thinking about the total system and how you can optimize your engineering effort.

Watch the presentation: Software Reuse in Automotive Engineering.

What do you think? Do you take a feature-based approach? Share your questions and comments below.