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.

Shiny New Welcome Page

Our designers continue the march to make Aligni more productive, more beautiful, and easier to use with a new Welcome Page design. Three switchable perspectives give you quick access to your most important items in a common look and feel.

Welcome-SupplyChain@2x

Welcome Page Perspectives

Three “perspectives” on the Welcome Page collect information related to Engineering, Supply Chain, and Inventory. Select between these perspectives to see summary information collected from your site.

Welcome-Perspectives@2x

For example, the Supply Chain perspective includes the familiar Build Manager (with some great new search and filtering options, by the way) as well as Quote and Purchasing Activities.

Welcome-Inventory-Transfers@2x Welcome-Inventory-ReceivePurchaseOrders@2x

Integrated Search Filters

Welcome-SearchFilters@2xWe’ve moved the part search filters to the Welcome Page now for faster access, eliminating extra clicks and page loads to find parts.

Part Favorites

Parts-Favorites@2xSearch in Aligni is pretty fast, but many users find themselves going to the same part pages often during project phases. Now you can tag often-visited parts quickly using the new Favorites feature. Just click on the Favorite Start at the top right of a part page and the part is instantly tagged as a favorite. Click again to untag. Favorites appear on the new Welcome Page in the Engineer Perspective.

Performance Improvements

Performance@2xWhile the designers have been doing their thing, our engineers have been working diligently to tune performance for demanding sites. The results are starting to pay off with dramatic decreases in page load times by up to 80%!

There’s more to come and we’re carefully monitoring activity to see which pages deserve the most attention based on their load time and popularity.

Lifecycle Parameters

LifecycleParameters@2xA great new addition is Lifecycle Parameters. These are parameters that can be edited at any time (by users with permission to edit lifecycle parameters) without the need to create a new revision and release. Lifecycle parameters are best suited to part attributes that change during the lifetime of a part and aren’t necessarily tied to the rigid release structure. For example, estimated cost and internal engineering status may change without the need to formally release a new revision.

Since Lifecycle Parameters can be changed at any time, their changes are logged on the part history tab.

Parts and Permissions – Fall Update

We’re excited to announce some significant changes to Aligni this fall with design and functionality updates to the Parts pages and Site Permissions. These changes will take effect soon on all sites but we wanted to give you a couple weeks to prepare for them. We invite you to take a look at our Demo Site and familiarize yourself with the updated interface.

We’ll also be updating the documentation pages soon with more detail on the updated functionality.

Permissions

Permissions-Parts@2xFirst, let’s talk about Permissions. Aligni currently has a limited set of permissions assigned to usergroups. As our customers (and Aligni) have grown over the years, we’ve felt the need to make permissions more granular to give administrators more power over what their users can and cannot do. To this end, we bring you Permission Sets.

Permission Sets replace Usergroups as a way to grant permissions to users. Permission Sets now offer much more granular control than our Usergroups did. You may assign multiple Permission Sets to any user and the permissions are granted in an additive manner.

Qualifiers

Permissions-Qualifiers@2xSome permissions now have optional qualifiers. For example, you can grant permission to view inventory at all locations or you can restrict the permission to a single inventory location. If you have multiple factory locations, this allows you to grant visibility only to people at the specific location.

We have additional plans for qualifiers coming soon. Stay tuned!

 

Part Pages Design

Part-Tabs@2xWhat started with a redesign of ActiveQuote and Purchasing features continues to the Aligni Part pages. Parts are central to the Aligni experience so our focus has been on usability and efficiency. In addition to a great new look and feel, the new design has allowed us to provide more information on the page.

Tabbed Interface

The first thing you’ll notice is that we’ve created a new tabbed interface to give each section of the part page more space and to focus information. With part information shown in the header, you can quickly switch between tabs for more information.

Standard / Summary views

A new summary view keeps the familiar density of part information of the old interface design but we’ve cleaned this view up a fair bit by making it read-only. The new decluttered view makes it even easier to get an overview.

Additional Data

On the tabs, you’ll see a few new nuggets…

  • Inventory History – The inventory tab contains recent inventory history and it’s even filterable.
  • Supply Chain – The supply chain tab shows recent quotes and now includes recent purchasing activity.
  • Change History – The history tab shows changes to the part parameters. It’s also filterable.

Part Revisions

The biggest functional change in this update is Part Revisions. Previously, we supported part changes through the Partlist Tags feature but this only captured changes to a part’s BOM. With Part Revisions, we additionally capture changes to several of the basic part parameters and all custom parameters, and even attachments.

Parts-RevisionList@2x

Drafts

Parts-Draft@2xWith the transition to Part Revisions, what was previously an “uncommitted” part has now become a Draft. Since most users were not using this functionality, we have converted all existing “uncommitted” parts to released parts.

Now, when a part is first created or a new revision is created, the part is in draft mode and cannot be used on part lists or added to inventory, quotes, or purchases until it has been released. This assures that the part has been entered and reviewed, if necessary, for completeness.

Release Workflow

Parts-ReleaseRevision@2xReleasing a new part is straightforward. The part becomes Released and may be used as expected.

Releasing a new revision is slightly different and offers the user an opportunity to review the part’s current revision in inventory and usage on BOMs. Since inventory in Aligni ignores part revision, existing inventory is either up-rev’d (converted to the new revision) or disposed.

Similarly, each appearance on an assembly BOM can be automatically up-rev’ed or left as the existing version.

Attachments

To help organize attachments (files, notes, and URLs) for your parts, you can now attach to either the Part or the Part Revision. Attaching to the Part means that every revision has visibility of the attachment. Attaching to the Part Revision means that only items attached to that specific revision will be visible. View and manage attachments on the new Attachments tab.

Attachment Handling

A new setting has been added to the Site Settings / Part Settings: Attachment Handling. This setting determines how part revision attachments are managed for released parts and apply to all parts on the site.

  • Open – Attachments may be added, edited or removed at any time by users with permission.
  • Add-Only – Except in Draft mode, attachments may only be added after.
  • Closed – Once released, part revision attachments are fixed and may not be added, edited, or removed.

Data Migration

This latest update requires some changes to site data. We’re always very careful and tread softly when this needs to be done to enhance functionality. The following changes will occur with the migration and we’ll let you know through our newsletter when this change will happen. It is currently scheduled for Saturday, 2014-11-22 but that date may change. If you have any questions or concerns ahead of this date, please contact us!

Migrating Usergroups to Permission Sets

We have automatically migrated your existing Usergroups to Permission Sets. With the new added flexibility, it might be a good time to review these Permission Sets and make any adjustments you need.

Migrating Partlist Tags to Part Revisions

The following table illustrates what changes will occur. Basically, Partlist Tags are converted to Part Revisions. Immediately after the migration is performed, there will be no Draft parts, so every part currently in your database will become released.

Partlist Tags Part Revisions
Tagged Partlists Converted to Part Revisions with the same name.
Untagged Partlists Released and converted a Part Revision named “A”.
Builds – Tagged Partlist Converted to a Build of the corresponding Part Revision.
Builds – Untgged Partlist Converted to a Build of Part Revision “A”.
Uncommitted Parts Released as Part Revision “A”.

Purchasing Reloaded

Our designers and developers have been hard at work putting together a new design for Aligni’s Purchasing interface and we’re happy to introduce some of the finer points here. For more information, be sure to visit our online documentation.

Purchase Manager

PurchaseManager-TabIndex@2xThe left-side navigation link for Purchases will take you to the Purchase Manager where you can see an overall of your site’s purchasing activities. Purchases are listed according to the three status categories listed below. A new search feature allows you to find purchase orders by vendor or PO number.

  • Draft – New purchases are in draft mode until they are committed.
  • Open – Open purchases are those that are committed but have at least one open item. An open item is an item on a purchase that has not been received in full.
  • Closed – Closed purchases are those for which all items on the purchase have been received in full.

Parts on Order

The Parts on Order tab shows all open items along with vendor promise dates (due dates) and links to the original purchase.

Purchasing Summary

On the Purchasing Summary tab, historical purchasing information is summarized by vendor and manufacturer over a selectable period.

Fresh Clean Look

Collapsible vendor tabs clear unwanted clutter and provide an indication of which vendors have been emailed the RFQ.

Attachments

You can now add notes, URL, and file attachments to purchases. Include copies of vendor quotes, drawings, or other helpful files. Keep notes of vendor discussions or changes in delivery dates. Best of all, attachments persist with the purchase, so you have a lasting record of the information associated with the purchase, not just the PO itself.

Widescreen Users Rejoice!

Purchase-Price-Helper@2xMany Aligni users have wide displays and our new design includes a number of features intended to help them get the most of your screen real estate. Helpful information is shown in the right sidebar when your browser is wide enough.

With the sidebars, entering quantity and price information is blazingly fast.
When entering quantities, the sidebar contains:

  • Current inventory and the item’s reorder quantity setting.
  • Recent quotes
  • Recent purchases
  • Recent builds
  • Historical and predicted consumption over 24 months
  • Where-used information

When entering prices, the sidebar contains:

  • Recent purchases
  • One-click selection of price / vendor based on quotes

Currency Support

Each purchase can be setup for a specific currency, often based on the vendor’s currency or their offered quotes. Write your purchases in this currency and Aligni will convert the received inventory to your site-wide inventory when you receive items against the PO.

New Suppliers Design

Back in December, we released the first stage of our new design look & feel. Today, we’re happy to announce this new look for the Suppliers portion of Aligni. But this update is more than just a pretty façade.

New Look

Suppliers-Cards@2xFor starters, we’ve updated the overall page design to be cleaner, more consistent, and easier on the eyes. Now you can display supplier information in a list format or three-across as cards. Manufacturers, Vendors, Contacts, and Customers (new!) are differentiated by icon and color.

Summary information such as email, phone, address, and distribution is available at a glance and details are only a click away.

Better Organization

Suppliers-Details@2xSupplier detail information is now better organized into tabs, making it easier to find the information you’re after and also bringing some items (like History) into clearer view.

Attachments – Drag and Drop

Suppliers-Attachments@2xModern browsers now support file drag and drop and we love it! Now, when attaching files to a supplier, you can simply drag and drop the file from your desktop to the browser. It makes the Aligni interface feel much more like a native desktop application.

We’ve also added drag-and-drop reordering of attachments to help you prioritize the information better.

Customers (and more)

Suppliers-Customer@2xFinally, we’ve added Customers to the bunch. While not technically a supplier, customers fit the genre of relationships that we’re trying to foster with the “Suppliers” section. You can keep important details about your customers here such as credit approvals, notes, terms & conditions, etc.

Multiple Addresses

Finally we reorganized the addresses and phone numbers a bit. You can now store multiple addresses and phone numbers with any supplier or customer and attach a descriptive label to them for reference.

Parts & Vendors Migration Improvements

In January 2014, Trilogy Design announced the end of their technical support, thus ending twenty solid years as a stalwart package meeting the needs of small engineering departments worldwide. We’ve long helped P&V users grow to their next level by offering migration from their existing database to Aligni and look forward to continuing this service.

We’ve recently improved our migration tool for Parts & Vendors by adding support for purchase orders as well as improving the flow for customers to upload their database to us for quick migration.

Upload Your Data

PVMigrationPreviously, the migration tool was run by customers locally and it used the Aligni API to reconstitute their data in Aligni. This was a bit cumbersome for customers without programming knowledge and it isolated us from some of the problems they might have encountered. Now, you can upload your P&V database directly into your new Aligni site and we can perform the migration directly on Aligni servers. Upon completion, you’ll get a full log of the translation with any errors that might require some attention.

To get started, visit your settings page by clicking on your avatar image. At the bottom of the settings choices, select “Parts & Vendors Migration” as shown to the right, then follow the prompts to upload your data. You need to be fully subscribed to do a migration; migration is not provided during the trial period. Also note that your existing data will be destroyed before the migration can begin.

More to Come

We’re not done yet! We still have a few things to add to help P&V users migrate to cloud-based part management. Stay tuned!

Currency Support

Yesterday we pushed an update that provides for currency support throughout Aligni, in particular, Quotes and Purchases. We’re still considering this support ‘beta’ for the time being, and would love to hear your feedback. The documentation pages have been updated with additional information where applicable. Here are the broad strokes.

Site Currency

New site accounts will need to declare their Site Currency. This is the native currency for the site and determines the currency of record for all inventory units. The value of each inventory unit is maintained in this currency.

ActiveQuote

ActiveQuote now allows you to declare a requested currency which will be conveyed to the vendors on your RFQ. Each vendor can change their response currency, if desired, so that all their quotes will be in the currency they declare.

Cost Sheets for assemblies will automatically convert non-native currencies (using the daily exchange rate) to your Site Currency before computing cost information.

Purchasing

Purchases can also be in a selected currency other than your Site Currency. When you receive inventory on these purchase orders, Aligni will record the new inventory in your Site Currency and provide a default exchange rate (updated daily) or allow you the opportunity to set the exchange rate manually.