Tell a Story with Aligni ECM

The essence of product lifecycle management (PLM) is to engage with the life of your product throughout its entire lifecycle – from conceptualization to development, from prototype to production, through maintenance, and ultimately obsolescence. Engineering change management (ECM) is the documentation process that tells this story. It’s hard enough for one person to build one product and remember all the twists and turns that brought them through today.

This month, we’re rolling out Aligni’s new ECM feature. Aligni’s ECM has been developed to provide a simple, easy-to-use workflow, a clean interface, and the integration you’d expect to other Aligni pages making ECM documentation easy to find for your parts and assemblies. ECM at the enterprise service level includes approval workflow for role-based management of the change process.

With ECM, you can create engineering change requests (ECR), link them to engineering change orders (ECO), then link the ECO to a part revision to fully track the proposal, discussion, evaluation, and implementation of requested changes.

Every organization handles changes a bit differently – priorities vary from company to company and your approach to change documentation needs to reflect your company’s values and purpose. Configurable ECM parameters allow you to customize your site’s ECM to work perfectly with your workflow and internal process terminology.

Discussions and attachments are a vital part of the change process. ECM discussions include a feature where participants can register their position on a proposed change or implementation as undecided, thumbs up, or thumbs down. This is separate from the approval process so even sites without approval workflow gain some documentation benefit from ECM participation.

Aligni ECM records allow you to list related items and affected items. These links include specific revisions of parts so you can quickly see which ECO were rolled into a revision update. We mentioned previously that ECM can help tell the story of a part’s evolution. This story becomes clear in the part revision history where links to all contributing ECO and ECR are connected to their corresponding revision. All of your change documentation is just a click away!

Documentation

For more information, please visit our Change Management documentation.

Aligni ECM Pricing and Availability

Aligni ECM is immediately available as part of all Large and Enterprise plans. Existing Medium plans are able to try out Aligni ECM for 60 days by emailing support. After the trial period, you will need to be on a Large or Enterprise plan to continue using ECM.

Minor API Update

An error in the API for subparts was recently brought to our attention. We will be deploying an update to the API over the weekend of June 24 / 25 but wanted to make you aware of the change. While we don’t believe anyone will be affected by this change, it is possible that some users quietly used the incorrect API data.

Before the change, the subpart tags in a part’s part listing used part_revision_id to incorrectly reference the PARENT’S part revision ID. You’ll note that this was already referenced in the revision tag.

The API update changes this so that the part_revision_id now correctly references the CHILD part revision.

Builds and Partial Reservations

We’re excited to deploy a new feature that will allow builds to have reservations specified on a per-item basis as opposed to the full-build reservations that are presently enforced.

Aligni’s builds help you manage the conversion of components into finished goods, reducing inventory of components as they are consumed into final assemblies. Currently, a build progresses through the stages as a whole. That is, every item on the build moves along with every other item through planning, allocation, reservation, and completion.

Historically, this meant that if you were waiting on one part to arrive, the whole build had to remain in allocation until that part could be reserved along with the other parts. Alternatively, some customers would reserve the partial build, but then cancel the reservation to re-reserve when the part arrived. Neither solution is ideal.

With partial reservations, you can now reserve (and unreserve) single items at a time while the build is active. Aligni will allow you to finalize the build at any time, but will alert you if the build is not yet “fully reserved” — that is, when reservations satisfy or exceed the allocated quantities.

We’ve deployed this new functionality to our Demo Site. Please try things out and become accustomed to the operation. This will go live on production sites starting February 6.

Reserving and Un-reserving Items

Builds-ProgressStatus@2xThe Parts tab for an allocated build is now a live-entry page (AJAX for you savvy web users). This means that when you enter a value in an entry and move to the next, Aligni will update the reserve quantity in real time. It will also update the progress bar at the top of the page to indicate how many items are allocated and how many are fully reserved. An item is considered fully reserved when the total reserved quantity is equal to or greater than the quantity originally allocated for the build. Since the entries are updated in real-time, there is no longer a Save button.

Progress Bar

A progress bar at the top of the build page and on the build manager provides a quick glimpse of the reservation status of the build. The green portion of the progress bar indicates the portion of the build that are allocated. The red portion of the progress bar indicates the portion of the build that has been reserved.

Build-ProgressBar@2x

Notice of New TLS 1.2 Requirement

TLS 1.2 Requirement

Starting 30 November 2016, TLS 1.2 will be required for all browser and API connections to Aligni. While many of you may not know what this means, the good news is that you probably don’t have to. TLS 1.2 is a protocol standard for secure internet connections. TLS 1.2 is supported by all recent major browsers. You can find a support matrix by visiting this page. The older your browser (or the more Microsofty it is), the less likely it is to support TLS 1.2 so make sure you’re using something up to date!

Aligni Replicator

The TLS 1.2 requirement also affects all API access. You will need to make sure that your API development environment supports TLS 1.2. Aligni Replicator 1.1.4 supports this and can be downloaded here. If you’re not using Replicator 1.1.4 by 30 November 2016, you will not be able to synchronize your local database.

Fall 2016 Newsletter

aligni-halloween-newsletter-masthead-v2-1200px

This update comes a bit later than we were hoping, but here are a few of the things we’ve been working on recently. We’ve got some great things coming in our next update, too!

GoogleAuthenticatorTwo-Factor Authentication

Aligni now supports optional Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) through use of the Google Authenticator smartphone app. By enabling 2FA for your account, a unique code is required in addition to your login credentials each time you login to Aligni.

Draft Revisions View

We’ve added Draft Revisions to the Engineering perspective of home screen so you now have a quick view of all draft parts as well as any draft revisions on existing released parts.
DraftParts@2x

URL Parameters

With the new URL custom parameter type, you can now add links to datasheets, web pages, or even intranet (internal) document storage. Links can have an optional text override in addition to the URL.
URL@2x

Part Import and Bulk Part Update (beta)

The Part Import tool now has a fresh new look and some usability improvements. Additionally, the tool now supports importing custom parameters from the CSV source.

Sometimes it becomes necessary to make broad changes to the items in your part database. This may be required after adding new custom parameters or other large scale updates. The new Bulk Part Update tool is intended to make this process easier. Just upload a CSV file with the changes you’d like to make and configure the tool to process those changes. Aligni will match to your part numbers and update the requested information. You have the option of making changes “in place” or creating new revisions.

This tool is considered BETA. If you use it, we would appreciate any feedback.

Equipment (Configuration Management)

Thanks to a recent sponsored development project, we’re happy to announce the availability of Equipment (documentation coming soon!). With the Equipment component, you can track the lifecycle of products throughout their operational life.

Equipment-LogbookEntries

Aligni already allows you to manage the product lifecycle from design, prototype, redesign, and production build. Now, you can manage the parts on these products after the build. Most commonly, this is used to manage parts, systems, and software of larger capital pieces of equipment such as aircraft or machine installations.

Approval Workflow (beta)

Approved@2xA new approval workflow is available to our Enterprise customers. It is currently supported for Purchasing and will be made available for ActiveQuote soon. It is also supported for the new Equipment / Configuration Management.

Miscellaneous Updates

We’ve made lots of other tweaks, adjustments, and improvements. Here’s an abbreviated list…

  • Attachments table in the Purchase email to vendors
  • API extensions to purchases
  • New “by vendor” part search filter
  • New “drafts” and “draft revisions” part search filters
  • …lots of other stuff and bug fixes…

Service Pricing Update

As of June 2015, new Aligni customers pay a monthly base fee and a monthly per-user fee. We will soon begin a transition plan for legacy customers to this new pricing. Please review our pricing matrix to see how this will affect your organization. All service upgrades from today forward will be done to the new pricing matrix.

Spring 2016 Newsletter

Vendor Part Number Improvements

VendorPartNumberPO@2xWe’ve updated the Part Display styles to include a new tag. Use this tag to include the vendor part number on RFQs and purchases. We’ve also added a new super-easy vendor part number selection on RFQs and POs. Customers submitting POs to Digi-Key will find this particularly helpful since Digi-Key often has multiple vendor P/N for the same part!

VendorPartSelection@2x

Build Finalization Ledger

A new “ledger style” table is displayed during the finalization stage of a build. This ledger clarifies how material and non-material costs factor in to the total unit cost of finished goods.

Builds-Finalize@2x

Purchase and RFQ Attachments

Attach files to RFQs and Purchases for record keeping and optional vendor view. If you enable vendor view for an attachment, your vendors will be able to download the attachment when they click on the Purchase / RFQ ticket to view it on Aligni. Since the actual attachments are not transmitted via email, you are not limited to email attachment size limitations.

Purchase History

We’ve added a History tab to purchases so you can see when items have been received against the PO. This is great for tracking vendor performance and keeping the timeline of a PO straight!

PurchaseHistory@2x

Slack Integration (beta)

slackLogo1Teams using Slack for messaging can now get Aligni notifications sent in real time. Right now, build updates and some part updates have been added. We’ll be adding more events to the notification list as time goes on so create your #aligni channel today and get started!

Build Location Specification

You may now specify the location of a build. When set to a specific inventory location, the allocation shortage list will consider only inventory available at the build location. The new allocation shortage list page is now multi-tabbed so you can look at shortages by location.

Favorites Popup

Hover over a favorite and click on the ? icon on a favorite to see a part summary popup.

FavoritesPopUp@2x

Other Updates

We’ve made lots of other tweaks, adjustments, and improvements. Here’s an abbreviated list…

  • Reorder quantity now has a min / max target range.
  • Part Type and Part Revision may not be added to printed labels.
  • Vendor account numbers show on POs.
  • Purchase order emails now include a CSV line item list attachment.
  • Currency selection has been added for a part’s Estimated Cost.
  • Multi-level drill-down cost sheet option when exporting CSV.

Fall 2015 Newsletter

Over the past few months, we’ve seen a number of enhancements to Aligni and have more in progress. A number of these updates have been sponsored by customers through our Bespoke Support. Thank you for your continued interest in making Aligni awesome for all our customers!

Manual Inventory Adjustment Ledger

Parts-Inventory-AdjustRelative-B@2xSometimes there’s a lot going on with inventory: transfers, build reservations, and adjustment batches. Now, when making a manual inventory adjustment to an item, a new ledge is shown to help clarify exactly what changes will be effected.

Inventory Adjustment Batches

Bulk inventory adjustment batches are created from the Inventory Perspective on the home screen by clicking on “Adjust Inventory”. You can use these for all sorts of inventory reconciliation and cycle counting. Even though we just deployed this year, we decided to make some sweeping changes to improve the interface and make way for some additional features later. Now, inventory adjustment batches are done in a manner very similar to inventory transfers so you can store your progress on any pending batch and come back to it later.

InventoryAdjustments@2x

Builds Redesign and Performance Improvements

The build interfaces have gotten a major update and are now consistent with most of the Aligni user experience. Along the way, we’ve made some pretty dramatic improvements to performance. With large builds, you should see load and processing times reduced by up to 80%.

Build Deviations

Build-Deviations-Dropdown@2xHot out of development, Build Deviations will greatly improve the way you and your manufacturing manage and track deviations during the build cycle. You can add, remove, and substitute parts of a build during the planning stages and document those changes easily and clearly. Now that deviations can more precisely be handled at build time, we will soon be removing the part alternates management at the BOM level.

Builds-Deviations-Removals@2x

Builds-Deviations-Additions@2x

Inventory Transfers

The inventory transfers interface has gotten its facelift and now has a “Pull Ticket” feature. Oh, we also added this to builds.

Performance Improvements and Bugs Squashed

As usual, our developers continue to improve performance and close defects. We maintain our stand that bugs need to be first priority for any development and our low defect rate and fast response times are an indicator that we’re doing well in that regard. For all of you that have reported issues, thank you for doing so and helping us get to the bottom of things.

Help Us!

Please share your experience with Aligni with your colleagues and on social media! And if you have time, please drop by Capterra and offer up a review.

Spring 2015 Newsletter

Part Type Categories (Hierarchy)

PartTypeCategories@2xPart Types may now have parent categories, allowing you to define multi-level hierarchies of part types. Optionally, set the “Category Only” option to prevent parts from being added to a mid-level category.

Purchases Activity Tab

The Purchase View now has an additional “Activity” tab. When you submit a purchase order to vendors, Aligni now stores a copy of the email and purchase order PDF you sent so you can review it later. This is particularly helpful if you make changes to a purchase and submit those revisions to your vendor. You can now review previous submittals.

Purchases-ActivityTab@2x

Bulk Inventory Adjustments

Inventory-BulkAdjustments@2x

Inventory-AdjustmentQueue@2x

Performing inventory cycle counts and other bulk inventory adjustments just got a lot easier with Aligni! To get started, click on “Adjust Inventory” from the home page inventory perspective.

Select a part collection or inventory location and Aligni will populate the form with parts within your selection criteria. As you enter line-by-line adjustments, the adjustments are queued for review.

When you’re ready to commit the adjustments, click on the yellow inventory icon at the top of the navigation bar to see a list of the queued adjustments, remove individual adjustments, or commit them all with a common log message.

For more information, see the Bulk Inventory Adjustments documentation.

Partlist Export Templates

Part-ExportTemplates@2xStandardize your part list (and soon, kit list) CSV exports using Partlist Export Templates, available on the settings pages. You can select which columns to export and even specify their relative order in the CSV file. With export templates, your users will produce reliably-consistent CSV files every time.

Custom Parameter Search

We’ve cleaned up the part search filter and added new filter capabilities for finding parts by custom parameters. Check this out on the home page engineer perspective.

PartSearch@2x

Minor Updates

We’re constantly adding new features and adjusting existing ones for the ultimate user experience. Overall, we’ve made several (too many to mention!) performance and design improvements. We hope that these smaller tweaks improve your Aligni experience! For example…

Purchases and Quotes

We’ve added a new vendor selection interface and a new “Add a Part” link to add a single part to an RFQ or purchase.

Line item BOM details on the Where-Used

Click on the new “info” icon in the Part Usage area on a Part Details page to see the partlist entry for that part on the BOM including the quantity, reference designators, and comment.

Chrome 42+ and Dymo Label Printers

Google recently released Chrome version 42 in which they have disabled the key feature that allows web browsers to print to Dymo label printers. The Dymo software uses a feature called NPAPI for Chrome and other browsers. Google announced that they would remove this entirely in September 2015. With Chrome 42, they have disabled the feature.

To fix Dymo support in Chrome 42,

  1. Enable NPAPI by visiting the link chrome://flags/#enable-npapi and clicking “Enable”.
  2. Quit Chrome
  3. Re-install the Dymo DLS software

You should now be able to see that the plugin is enabled by visiting chrome://plugins

The folks at Dymo are still working on a solution to this issue for the long term.

The BOM : Necessary and Sufficient Items

This blog entry also appears as a guest blog with our friends at Octopart. Thanks, Janine!

In the electronics, mechanical, and chemical industries, a Bill of Materials (BOM) is a list of the raw materials that are required to manufacture or formulate an end product. A BOM is most often used to communicate material requirements to manufacturing partners and typically accompanies other data such as schematic drawings, procedural documents, or pick and place data for electronic assemblies.

Necessary Items

A Bill of Materials (BOM) has three necessary components:

  • Manufacturer and Manufacturer P/N – These are used to uniquely identify the item in the world of all components.
  • Quantity and Units – How many parts (and the corresponding unit of measure) are used on your assembly.
  • Reference Designators – Where the parts go on your assembly.
  • These are the essential components. There can be no compromises here. If any of these components is missing from the BOM, it is incomplete.

    But this is also a sufficient set for a BOM. Any additional data can be acquired from other sources and is not required to completely describe the BOM. In fact, including additional data may be detrimental unless the BOM is well-maintained with timely data.

    This is minimal set because if anything is left out, the BOM is incomplete. Let’s go through these one by one.

    Manufacturer and Manufacturer P/N

    The manufacturer and manufacturer part number (MPN) are required to uniquely identify the part. It is common to cheat and use a description for some generic components. For example, some folks find it acceptable to say “10kOhm, 5%, 0402 resistor”. While this may be acceptable for some applications, it is certainly not always acceptable. For any given resistor, the datasheet for that resistor includes a number of parameters. To thoroughly specify the lowly, mundane resistor, you’d have to attach a datasheet. Save everyone some grief and just pick a widely available part and be specific about the manufacturer and MPN. Use PLM software and other methods to specify and link acceptable alternates and substitutes. That way, if the part isn’t available, you can be specific about what to use in its stead.

    In the PLM world, the MPN is basically a SKU (stock keeping unit). It uniquely describes an item of identical form, fit, function, or formulation. If any of these four change, a new SKU is necessarily created.

    What is PLM?

    PLM is, in many ways, the hardware equivalent of the software world’s Source Code Management (SCM). These days, even the most rudimentary software projects are managed under SCM systems such as Git, Subversion, Perforce, and others. SCM puts source code into a much richer context. Tracking changes, branch management, merges, code reviews, and more are all possible with SCM. These things are possible with folders and files but at a significant cost and reduction in operational efficiency. So anyone even remotely serious about software development is using SCM.

    Similarly, PLM puts the hardware design into a richer structure that improves operational efficiency. Part and supplier information are managed in database records to avoid duplication of data. Assembly part lists (BOMs) link to these records and are also managed in database records so that comparison is easily done. Maintenance of project cost and inventory availability is all a free side effect of curating your entire part database.

    Quantity and Units

    Your purchasing folks need to know how many (or how much) of a particular item to purchase for each assembly. Most items will have the units of “each” but some items will require a broader set such as milliliters (adhesives, thermal paste, sealants, formulations), centimeters (wire, tape, heat shrink tubing), and so on.

    Reference Designators

    The term “reference designator” is common in electronics manufacturing and refers to the typical way to call out an instance of a part on a schematic. C1, C2, C3 often refer to capacitors 1, 2, and 3 on the schematic. The prefix (C, R, U, etc) is a convenience and mostly irrelevant, but the designators themselves must be unique within the BOM.
    Schematic

    Mechanical drawings have a similar style, but typically reference drawings of the part rather than the abstract representations seen on electronics schematics. In either case, the result is the same – each part in the CAD of the assembly is uniquely identified and references a unique part on the BOM.
    CirrusBrakes

    Sufficient? (or When a BOM Becomes a Time Bomb)

    BOMs can get pretty loaded with additional information. Some things often seen on BOMs are:

    • Item description
    • Component pricing (at various quantities)
    • Supplier information such as distributor(s) and distributor inventory
    • Lead time
    • Vendor part numbers
    • Datasheet links
    • Alternative parts for substitutions

    All of this information is undoubtedly useful in some context. It’s often helpful to know know additional information about an item on a BOM. Purchasing folks would like to know which items will require the longest lead time and what they can expect to pay for them. Engineers would like additional details about the part and reference datasheets. Manufacturers may like to know which parts they could substitute in case they are short on inventory.

    The question is, are any of these required on the BOM and, if not required, should they be there anyway? I argue that they are not required. This is all information that lives elsewhere and is maintained elsewhere. If you’re using a good PLM & MRP software, this information lives in your database. If not, the information lives in a variety of other places such as manufacturer websites, supplier websites, and email interactions. Yes, it’s cumbersome to refer to these other places, but it’s also cumbersome to maintain a BOM that has captured all this data. (hint: this is why good software is helpful)

    With this additional information, a BOM has a half-life and as that information expires, becomes less useful and more tedious to maintain. In fact, stale information can actually be detrimental and more costly than the absence of information.

    Case Study Challenge – Packaging

    Packaging presents a bit of a minor (maybe just annoying) challenge to defining a BOM. A widely seen example is in the distribution of small electronic components where the same fundamental part is sold is different packaging and quantities. Note that I’m not referring to the device package (like SOT-23 vs. QFN). I’m referring to the way the devices are packaged for sale such as plastic tubes, 250-pc tape & reel, or 3,000-pc tape & reel.

    Texas Instruments is a large, well-known electronics component manufacturer. They use a suffix on their MPN to indicate delivery packaging which has absolutely nothing to do with the underlying part. For example, let’s take their TPS2552DBV, a precision adjustable power distribution switch. This device is available in 250-pc tape & reel (TPS2552DBVT) or 3,000-pc tape & reel packaging (TPS2552DBVR). Same part. Same device package. Different spool quantity.

    Why is this a challenge? Because no one from engineering cares (nor do they need to care) what size the delivery packaging is. But when someone places an order with them, they need to know which packaging to send them. If you place an order for 3,000 TPS2552DBV, do you mean you want one TPS2552DBVR or twelve TPS2552DBVT?

    And even the supply chain folks can get confused. Look at the Digi-Key prices for these two different part numbers.

    TPS2552DBVR-DigiKey

    TPS2552DBVT-DigiKey

    These are the same part. They have the same form, fit, function, and formulation. No one (even at Texas Instruments) could tell any functional difference between these two parts and yet their price in Digi-Key cut tape quantities is different by about 13%. Consider a situation where your supplier is out of stock on one of these two part numbers with a lead time of 8 weeks but has the other part number in stock. Without this institutional knowledge, you could have a line-down situation for 8 weeks.

    Solution

    TPS2552DBVHow can this be resolved? This is a common situation that quickly gets out of hand when working with spreadsheet BOMs, but is rather mundane for software to handle. The TPS2552DBV needs to present as a single component to your engineers, but provide additional depth to purchasing folks. Your part database needs to present a unified front: one part that your entire organization can agree is the same part, regardless of how it is packaged for sale.

    TPS2552DBV-VPNOne solution is to allow a single part record to link to multiple vendor part numbers with a brief description of what each one means. For example, the table to the right captures various vendors and their corresponding internal part number representations.

    With this data available, quoting and purchasing software can use this to resolve any ambiguities. More importantly, since this is a known and documented software feature, the personnel handling purchasing know that they’re free to make decisions based on this information, confident that will not affect form, fit, function, or formulation of the final product.